When PMDs become WMDs on the streets of Noosa

My latest e-death experience came a few weeks ago while strolling down the lane at the rear of The J car park. I was listening to an audio book via earphones when first one, and then a second young girl, both on e-scooters, cut the corner and flashed by me while I shrank into a bush at the side of the pathway. 

I can still feel the rush of air on my left arm as they veered nonchalantly to avoid turning me into chopped liver. The girls – my fleeting impression as they hurtled past suggested they were aged about 14 – missed me by centimetres. 

It was the third time this year that I’d had a close and personal encounter with a PMD (Personal Mobility Device). Attention fellow boomers, that term does not include Zimmers, crutches or electric wheelchairs; in today’s parlance, PMDs mean electric bikes, scooters or skateboards. 

On a previous occasion, two kids aboard a single scooter glided up behind me on the Noosa Drive boardwalk like a silent assassin before schussing past on their way down to Hastings Street.

When I recounted these sphincter-tightening experiences to a few of my fellow GOFs (Grumpy Old Farts), it opened up a Pandora’s box. One by one, the GOFs related their own vivid and varied PMD perp stories. They included:

  • Being overtaken in a 50kph precinct by a pimply youth riding one of those fat-tyre e-bikes that are currently all the rage.
  • Witnessing a kamikaze kid going hands-free while navigating the Junction roundabout.
  • Being traumatised by a whippersnapper doing a wheelie on the river walkway at Gympie Terrace. 

The common thread in these PMD incidents was obvious: all involved youngsters, most of them under 16. Some were probably under 12 which is totally illegal.

Now, before I start sounding really grumpy, let me say this: if PMDs had existed when I was a young lad (ie many, many moons before I attained GOF status), I’d have swopped my old Raleigh Roadster for one of these new-fangled machines faster than you could say ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’! 

And a further self-incriminating confession: I would have also played fast and loose with the rules relating to speed, safety helmet, double riding (ie having a passenger) etc. Furthermore, I would not have waited patiently until I was of legal age (16 without adult supervision) before I hopped on a PMD.

In other words, I don’t blame kids for this latest hazard to humble walkers in Noosa. They are simply doing what ‘yoof’ has always done – testing boundaries, taking risks, dissing their elders. No, no, I have two targets for blame: parents for the lack of supervision, and the police for not coming down harder on adolescent malefactors. More of that later.

But I was lucky, my daredevil antics in the early sixties as a scruffy, scrappy adolescent on a humble bicycle resulted in many bruises and grazes but no broken bones or serious injury, far less death – otherwise I would not be writing this! But nowadays the PMDs have the potential to become WMDs – weapons of mass destruction – not just for the kids themselves, but also for the pedestrians and motorists unlucky enough to be random victims of their behaviour. 

“Often riders are travelling up to 60 kilometres an hour, commonly on roads or on footpaths, and that makes it dangerous for themselves and other road users. It also just adds an element of danger and risk to pedestrians using the footpaths,” Sgt Duncan Hill of the Highway Patrol told a recent medical symposium on the subject of PMD-related trauma.

Similarly, the RACQ reports that “… electric scooter crashes are becoming more common and more severe, with presentations to emergency departments across the state increasing every month.”

The accidents waiting to happen

It is only fair to say that the vast majority of PMD perps are probably in their late teens and twenties, but anecdotal evidence, not just from the GOF demographic, seems to suggest that many more accidents are just waiting to happen as a result of unsupervised kids under 16 hooning on shared pathways and pavements at speeds considerably higher than the legal 12kph.

As Kate Ogg of Mooloolaba-based rental agency Oggy E-Scooters says: “There are too many riders on privately owned scooters that are hooning around giving responsible riders a bad name, and there are too many unsupervised children riding too.”

While other cities and countries are adopting harsher restrictions on PMDs (and in some cases outright bans – eg the UK has banned the private use of e-scooters), Australia seems to be actively embracing them for their alleged qualities of greenness, convenience and parking/traffic reduction.

Indeed, the Unlucky Country has reportedly seen e-bike sales power ahead by a turbo-charged 800 per cent in the last five years with sales estimated to reach $100m this year, and $150m in the year 2030. 

In addition, annual e-scooter revenue is estimated to reach $78m this year, increasing to $130m by 2030 (an annual growth rate of 13.82%). According to registered charity ‘Electric Riders Australia’, there are currently an estimated 300,000 private e-scooter owners.

All well and good, except that A&E wards in hospitals around the country, including the Sunshine Coast, have experienced corresponding increases in the number of PMD-related fractures and fatalities. The Royal Australian College of Surgeons recently expressed its concern about this “growing injury toll”. Other doctors report seeing an increase in “catastrophic” and “life-changing” traumas.

So, what to do? Last year, the chair of the RACS (Royal Australian College of Surgeons) Trauma Committee suggested this: “More legislation can ensure that users of these personal mobility devices are treated in the same way as other road users is a positive step forward.” 

I’m not sure what legislation he had in mind, but the UK (where e-scooters are banned on public roads and paths), is currently operating trial schemes in various cities. If the ban is overturned, the high likelihood is that PMDs will have to be licensed and insured. They will also probably have to carry number plates for easy identification. 

The need for E-ducation and E-nforcement

If Australia was to follow suit, that might result in safer roads but higher costs in terms of bureaucracy. I prefer the idea that we tackle the E-vehicle problem with two readily available E-solutions: Education and Enforcement. 

The first is, realistically, down to parents and schools; both need to step up in this area with the help of the state government – perhaps a joint initiative between the education and transport departments? Prevention, after all, is better than a cure.  

And how about this suggestion from one of my GOF colleagues? “Make it mandatory for parents who provide their children with e-bikes or scooters to visit a casualty ward to witness first-hand what can happen if their little darlings are not supervised.” 

Education is one thing, but enforcement of the rules and regs around PDM usage is trickier; that is particularly true in places like Noosa where, let’s face it, the police are thin on the ground. Yes, there are fines covering most PMD transgressions – up to $1,078 for dangerous offences involving speed, illegal road use and holding a mobile phone while riding – but how can they be applied if cops are not around? – it’s like the proverbial tree falling in a forest.

Anyway, what would be the point of an (uninjured) victim reporting a brush with e-death, particularly if, as is likely, the PMD perps fail to stop? Without number plates, identification is next to impossible; try describing a speeding, helmeted e-hoon who is already six inches taller because he/she/them is aboard a scooter, and zips by you at a rate of knots. Or, indeed, how would you describe the ‘getaway vehicle’?!

In my book, that leaves one final and feasible safety tactic: under-18s should have a suppressor fitted to their e-chariot of choice limiting the max speed to, say, 15kph. Other suggestions from readers are welcome.

One thing is sure: this whole PMD issue will run and run. Sigh, I just wish I’d had one when I was a boy.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I’m amazed at how many kids have the e-bikes – they are expensive! Despite that – parents need to discipline their kids and perhaps if they happen to get caught, parents should be fined!?

  2. Avatar

    A PMD being ridden by an underage person, or by any person in a dangerous manner, should be impounded either permanently or for a lengthy period of time.

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