Micromobility firm Tier will add artificial warning sounds to its fleet of e-scooters to alert blind and partially sighted people of their approach.
The European e-scooter operator said it plans to roll the sound alert out across its vehicles in 2021.
Tier is working with national charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, which will fund Sight Loss Councils to research the best sound to use and when it should be activated.
In July the UK government launched a year-long rental e-scooter trial in select locations around the country. While e-scooters are banned on pavements and limited to top speeds of 15.5mph, concerns have been raised about the risk to pedestrians – particularly those with disabilities and those who are visually impaired.
Eleanor Southwood, chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, previously told the government’s transport committee that e-scooters pose “a real and genuine threat to the ability of blind and partially sighted people to move around independently and safely”.
Tier’s commitment to fit its e-scooters with speakers is a bid to reassure regulators and advocacy groups that the vehicles will not pose a safety risk.
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Charles Colquhoun, CEO at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said: “By introducing the audio alert systems Tier is directly responding to the concerns that the introduction of silent, heavy and fast e-scooters represents a real danger to blind and partially sighted people.
“It has also agreed to incorporate advice and guidance to promote vision awareness for e-scooter riders within its induction information for each e-scooter hire.”
E-scooter sound may not be enough
While the majority of people appear to have used e-scooters responsibly, the UK pilot has not been without incident.
A week into an e-scooter trial in Teesside, two teenagers rode e-scooters operated by mobility firm Ginger onto a dual carriageway. Riders in Middlesbrough have also been seen driving through shopping centres.
Operators have responded by building in safeguards. Geofencing, for example, prevents an e-scooter from operating in certain areas such as motorways.
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Fred Jones, Tier’s UK general manager, said: “E-scooters offer lots of benefits to UK cities, but they must be introduced in a considered way, working in harmony with local communities and accounting for the concerns of people with visual impairment.
“At Tier, rather than just paying lip service to visually impaired people, we want to work with them to deliver real action to address their concerns. So we are thrilled to be working with Thomas Pocklington Trust to design and roll out a sound alert across our vehicles next year.”
However, Sarah Gayton, shared space co-ordinator at the National Federation of the Blind of the UK, told the Telegraph that “adding a noise will not ensure the safety of pedestrians. It is the uncontrollable behaviour of the e-scooter riders and the serious limitations of the e-scooter technology which are at the heart of the problem”.