Walking blind in Birmingham: Understanding the safety issues e-scooters pose

On 24 June, Birmingham Sight Loss Council teamed up with e-scooter operator Voi to invite Councillor Peter Fowler and representatives from Birmingham Council and Transport for West Midlands to experience the issues e-scooters pose blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Starting the day at Focus Birmingham offices, Sight Loss Council volunteer Claire Williams shared her experiences with e-scooters along with pictures showing how dangerously parked e-scooters are affecting visually impaired people.

Claire showed e-scooters parked in the middle of pavements, on pedestrian crossings and even an e-scooter parked right in the middle of a cycle lane. Claire also highlighted the fact that a cane can go right underneath an e-scooter parked on a pavement, giving a blind pedestrian no warning of the e-scooter’s presence. The solution? Sight Loss Councils are urging local authorities to install on-road parking bays, so e-scooters are taken off the pavements completely.

Claire said:

“I think more should be made of the fact that you will get fined if you do park in an inappropriate place, because it is a trip hazard for anybody, let alone with a visual impairment.”

 

Experiencing silent e-scooters

The group then headed out on to the streets of Harborne, wearing simulation spectacles (sim specs) which simulate the various sight conditions many Birmingham residents have. To demonstrate how difficult silent e-scooters are to hear, an e-scooter was driven past on the pavement. Most people didn’t even hear it go by, highlighting the fact that blind and partially sighted pedestrians have no chance to react to an on-coming e-scooter.

To mitigate this issue, Voi recently announced a trial of sound-emitting devices on its e-scooters, which the team demonstrated during the walk.

Sam Pooke, Senior Public Policy Manager, UK and Ireland at Voi Technology said:

“Safety is our number one priority. There are a number of measures we are taking including putting a sound on our e-scooters, which we are testing here in Birmingham. Over the summer we’re hoping to get feedback from groups such as the Sight Loss Council on what that sound feels like to them, if there are any improvements that need to be made.”

 

e-scooters on pavements

On the walk, Cllr Peter Fowler experienced first-hand the dangers e-scooters parked on pavements pose.

Wearing sim specs that simulated total blindness, Cllr Fowler was asked to walk towards an e-scooter that was placed on the pavement on its side. He was then told to stop and was shocked to see how close he came to falling over the e-scooter.

Speaking to the Birmingham Live, he said:

“As a person who can (usually) see, that was quite disorientating. You were wondering if you would hit the scooter or pass it and hit something else. It really, really brought it home to me as a councillor and as a person, the difference between visual and non-visual.”

 

‘Working collaboratively’

Louise Connop Engagement Manager for the West Midlands said: “Today’s event was about finding out the difficulties the VI community experience with regards to e-scooters and how we can work together collaboratively to improve safety. We’re not about stopping people who are able to use them for the correct purposes, but it is important that we do get the safety aspect sorted as soon as possible.”

Speaking about e-scooters being illegally ridden on pavements, Louise added: Would it be acceptable for mopeds to be ridden on pavements? The answer to that is ‘No’, but it’s the same (with e-scooters) – they are motorised vehicles.”

 

#StreetsForAll

Sight Loss Councils have been campaigning for months to improve e-scooter safety. The #StreetsForAll campaign is calling for:

● Mandatory on-road parking bays

● A reduction to the 15.5mph speed limit

● The installation of sound-emitting devices

● Geotagging to prevent pavement use.

Find out more about our #StreetsForAll campaign

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