A major law group says Victoria needs to expand compulsory third-party insurance for electric scooters to protect people injured in crashes.
The Andrews government last week extended its trial of e-scooters, giving two hire companies another six months’ operation and lifting a ban on riding privately owned devices on public roads.
Dana Monkman says she’s been left in limbo after a scooter rider broke her ankle eight weeks ago. Credit:Justin McManus
But the trial has been criticised by groups including Vision Australia, the Council of the Ageing Victoria and Victoria Walks, who say illegal footpath riding and the dumping of scooters on walkways are unacceptable safety hazards.
Hire companies Lime and Neuron’s 2500 scooters have been ridden 3.7 million times since they were deployed in three inner-Melbourne councils in early 2021.
Critics say e-scooters pose a hazard on footpaths.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Meanwhile, close to 100,000 e-scooters have already been sold in Victoria, according to the transport department, and people aged over 16 can legally ride them from Wednesday, provided their top speed is no faster than 25km/h.
Australian Lawyers Alliance national president-elect Shaun Marcus said personal injury law firms had seen a concerning number of inquiries from people unable to claim any compensation after they were injured by either a hired or privately owned scooter.
“We’re seeing so many people injured while riding these scooters and so many people injured by them,” he said. “It’s just so prevalent.”
Last month, Lime closed an exclusion in its third-party insurance policy that excluded claims when the rider was on a footpath, not wearing a helmet or if they broke any other road rule. But the same exclusion remains in Neuron’s policy and private scooter riders may not have insurance at all.
Roads Minister Melissa Horne said that private riders would be treated the same as cyclists, meaning they would not be covered by the Transport Accident Commission, which compensates people for incidents involving a motor vehicle, regardless of who is at fault.
Scooter riders could, however, take out their own insurance policies and third parties could pursue them through civil legal action, she said.
However, Marcus said civil action was no help if the rider could not pay and law firms were already seeing far more inquiries about scooter injuries than they ever had about bicycle crashes.
“The risk profile is different,” he said. “The manner in which scooters are ridden on footpaths and the speed they can accelerate is injuring people more than what bike riders have in the past.”
Dana Monkman said she had been financially devastated after a Lime e-scooter rider crashed into her and broke her ankle as she crossed Swanston Street on her way to work on February 3.
The 46-year-old hairdresser has been unable to work for the past eight weeks and faces at least another four weeks off her feet.
Dana Monkman has been unable to work for eight weeks after she was hit by an e-scooter rider.Credit:Justin McManus
Monkman has already used up her sick days and long-service leave, and is now claiming Centrelink payments, but that hardly covers rent for the house in Melbourne’s west she shares with her 11-year-old daughter.
“I’m already a low-income earner and I don’t have any savings,” she said. “They want me to start physiotherapy but I don’t have an income, so I can’t afford physiotherapy.”
The crash happened before Lime’s policy change and Monkman said the company indicated she would not be covered because the rider had broken the law.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed officers had attended the crash and fined the rider for going through an amber light.
“They need to close this loophole. It’s this grey area where nobody’s held accountable,” said Monkman, who was furious when she learned the trial had been extended and the minimum age of riders lowered from 18 to 16.
“It’s bad enough with adults being irresponsible and not doing the right thing, and now you’ve got kids on them.”
Marcus said the Victorian Law Commission should investigate policy options for compulsory third-party insurance to ensure all riders and third parties were sufficiently covered, adding that the claim limits in Lime’s new policy ($1000 for dental, $1000 for broken bones and $500 a week for loss of income) were too low.
A Department of Transport and Planning spokesperson said it expected all scooter-hire companies to follow Lime and update their third-party insurance policies.
The department said there were fewer than two hospitalisations per 100,000 kilometres ridden during the trial, and that pedestrian injuries were relatively rare.
“We are extending the trial to be certain that these relatively new devices can be safely incorporated into the transport mix,” they said.
“Over the next six months, we will monitor e-scooter safety, including whether operators’ insurance meets government and community expectations.”
Data from Monash University’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit shows more than 400 people were admitted to hospital and at least two people were killed in crashes involving e-scooters in 2021-22.
A Neuron spokesperson said it was “actively investigating options to increase our level of coverage”.
A Lime spokesman said its new “industry-leading” insurance policy showed that it “takes the safety of all community members extremely seriously”.
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