Berlin - Love 'em or hate 'em, e-scooters are everywhere - shuttling gangs of bored kids around, causing havoc in bike lanes or clogging up sidewalks. 

So it comes as little surprise that in the first half of 2021, the Berlin police recorded three times as many accidents involving e-scooters as in the first six months of 2020. "The number of people injured in collisions also spiked," according to stats the cops released to the Berliner Zeitung.

"E-scooters are very unstable and the users reckless and inconsiderate. Berlin's authorities have effectively resigned themselves to them," said Roland Stimpel, spokesman for the German Association of Pedestrian Traffic (FUSS) in reaction to the news.

"From 1 January to 30 June 2021, 223 traffic accidents involving very small electric vehicles were registered by the police in Berlin," a police spokeswoman wrote. "In the process, 21 people were seriously injured and 136 slightly injured." From 1 January to 30 June 2020, the police recorded 76 accidents involving vehicles of this type. One person died. Nine suffered serious injuries, 49 minor injuries.

Researchers investigate 

One explanation for fewer accidents in 2020 is that e-scooters are popular with tourists - and they were largely absent during the pandemic. The weather could also have played a role.

As far as the absolute numbers are concerned, e-scooters account only for a tiny portion of accidents on Berlin streets. "In all of 2020, 326 traffic accidents involving mini electric vehicles were registered by the police in Berlin," say the police. "One person was killed, 34 were seriously injured and 191 people slightly injured."

By contrast, a total 126,000 road accidents were reported. Nearly 13,300 people sustained light injuries. More than 2,000 suffered serious wounds, and 50 were killed. Most of the collisions involved motor vehicles, in around 7,900 cases cyclists were involved.

Morris Pudwell
An e-scooter in the aftermath of an accident with a car Alexanderplatz in April 2021. The driver was injured in a collision with a car.

However, statisticians suspect a high number of e-scooter accidents go unreported. Not everyone who is struck by an electric scooter reports it to the police. Near-accidents are almost never reported. Last Friday, a group of youths were cruising down the Straße des 17. Juni in the Tiergarten. A young man on an e-scooter drove head-on into a group of cyclists who were on the bike path heading towards the Brandenburg Gate. His fellow scooter riders tried to film the frightened faces of the cyclists with their phones.

The accident data needs to be seen in light of e-scooters' share of overall traffic. "They have to be put in relation to accident figures and usage data for other means of transport," say Laura Gebhardt and Matthias Heinrichs at the DLR Institute of Transport Research.

The researchers analysed nationwide data for the period January to March 2020. They come to the conclusion that the risk of an accident when travelling by e-scooter is twice as high as that of a bicycle.  A look at the number of accidents per kilometre sheds an even less favourable light on e-scooters. According to the study, 1.2 accidents occur for every million kilometres cycled, compared to 5.5 accidents for e-scooters. For every million kilometres cycled, 0.18 accidents occur in which people are seriously injured or killed. The figure for e-scooters is significantly higher - 0.88 accidents.

Cars are the real problem

"In terms of kilometres travelled, e-scooters are the most dangerous vehicles on the road," says Roland Stimpel. "Parked e-scooters are also not only ugly, but dangerous. Blind people are particularly at risk because their canes often do not detect e-scooters. The Berlin lawyer Thomas Hiby has been representing several blind clients who have tripped over wildly parked scooters and have been seriously injured."

However, not all stakeholders in the area of environmentally friendly mobility view e-scooters, which have also been available in Berlin since 2019, as critically as the pedestrian lobby. With more than 1.2 million registered passenger cars alone, the number of motor vehicles is vastly higher than that of electric scooters - which is in the lower five-digit range. Cars are the bigger problem, they say.

The Shared Mobility platform, to which the e-scooter rental companies Lime, Tier, Voi, Bird, Spin and Dott belong, also wants to look at the data. The accident figures should be compared with the usage data, says David Groher, who works at the platform. The scooter operators say that the vehicles offer innovative mobility and can contribute to a shift away from cars.