Segway safety in the spotlight down under

The controversy-riddled state government in Queensland, Australia, has decided to allow segways to travel on footpaths, infrastructure which until now has been out of bounds to all but pedestrians and children bicyclists. Consistent with bicycle legislation, segway riders will be required to wear helmets. In addition, they must not exceed the soon-to-be mandated speed limit of 12 km/hr (read more at http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/state-government-relaxes-bike-helmet-rules-for-people-who-must-wear-religious-headwear/story-e6freoof-1226626808441), however they can travel up to 20 km/hr and the penalty associated with violating this Police-enforceable limit is not known.

The reaction to the announcement has been mixed. Queensland Transport Minister Scott Emerson encouraged tourism venture operators in popular areas like the Gold Coast and Brisbane’s South Bank to capitalise on these changes. Queensland Police endorsed the Minister’s announcement, with plans to trial segway use by officers. Road safety and injury prevention researchers at the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland highlighted the mounting evidence that segways are dangerous to the rider (who have received fractures and serious head injuries, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20889236), particularly if they are inexperienced. Segways are also dangerous to slower-moving, unprotected pedestrians (including the elderly who are also more frail and vulnerable to injury). The Pedestrian Council of Australia emphasised the burgeoning epidemic of obesity, citing segways as a barrier to the healthier option of walking.

Segways are very quiet and weigh in excess of 35 kilograms, therefore collisions with pedestrians are likely to result in injury. In addition, segway riders have been found to require over 2 metres to safely negotiate the device around a pedestrian (see http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=848782), suggesting that shared paths are not the optimal solution for all users. Moreover, tourists characteristically meander across paths, stopping at random intervals to photograph their surroundings – perhaps the target audience is going to be the most vulnerable one?

 

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