Trendy electric scooters have been popping up on the streets of Europe for months, from Paris to Prague, allowing riders to zip along city streets with ease. But the police in Copenhagen have a clear message for potential users:
Don’t drink and scoot.
Over the weekend, 28 people were arrested in a crackdown on drunken scooter riders, Copenhagen’s police force announced on Twitter on Monday, as part of a larger push by Denmark’s traffic authority to keep intoxicated drivers off the road.
Of those arrested, 24 people were charged with drunken driving and another four were charged with operating scooters while under the influence of narcotics. They face fines of up to $600 for first- and second-time offenders, or potential jail time for more frequent violators.
The battery-powered electric scooters provided by private companies can be picked up and parked anywhere in Copenhagen by riders who rent them through mobile apps. Their popularity has grown quickly in the city since January, when the vehicles were introduced there.
At the time, Denmark’s traffic authority issued a set of rules for scooter use: A rider must be at least 15 years old, have a blood alcohol content below 0.05%, and not ride on the sidewalk or in pedestrian zones.
This week, Copenhagen’s local government announced that 13 companies had applied for permission to bring a total of nearly 21,000 electric scooters and electric bicycles to the city in the coming months. The city government said that decisions would be made by the fall about how many companies and scooters would be allowed to operate on the city streets.
The city has long been known for embracing alternative modes of transportation. Many people see scooters as an eco-friendly way for commuters and tourists to get around, and they have proved popular in Denmark, a leader in the push to combat climate change. After debuting in Copenhagen, they have been brought into smaller towns around the country.
But the influx of the self-propelled scooters has left cities struggling to quickly introduce safety regulations, as accidents increasingly make their way into the headlines.
Last month, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said in a news conference that the French capital would limit the number of electric scooters on the city’s streets, and the number of companies renting them.
Just days after her news conference, a 25-year-old man on an electric scooter was killed in northern Paris when he was hit by a truck. It was the first deadly collision involving a scooter since they appeared on the city’s crowded streets a year ago.
Standing behind a lectern emblazoned with the message “Scooters in Paris, do away with anarchy,” Hidalgo said the issue was a matter of safety, and introduced a series of new measures that took effect July 1.
“Every week is marked by a news item — a woman hit in a garden, an elderly person knocked down on a pedestrian crossing and dying,” Hidalgo said, according to the French news outlet Le Point. “My role as mayor is to defend these victims and avoid others.”
Famed Parisian streets like the Champs Élysées and Grands Boulevards have been overwhelmed with people riding scooters on their way to work and tourists tooling about.
Hidalgo said that by this fall, parking electric scooters on a sidewalk or other footpath would be illegal and that riders would be subject to a speed limit of 20 kilometers per hour, or about 12 mph, throughout Paris among other measures.
David Chong, 48, a Parisian who recently bought his own scooter, said he would not be bothered by the new restrictions, though they will force him to change his habits. He currently takes his son to school on his scooter, but the city council plans to prohibit two people from riding on the same vehicle together.
“I’m fine with that,” said Chong, who considers his scooter a convenient way to move around the bustling city. “It has become a mess. I understand that new rules must be applied.”
In Germany, rental companies quickly rolled out electric scooters in cities across the country, after the government approved their use in mid-June. But there have already been some bumps in the road.
Despite a 20 kph speed limit on the scooters, one 28-year-old rider went for a spin on the autobahn, where cars routinely drive at ten times that speed, police said. Vehicles that cannot sustain a speed of at least 60 kph are prohibited on the autobahn.
The man had followed his phone’s GPS directions onto the superhighway last week, after he grew tired of waiting for a train. Luckily, two drivers concerned for the man’s safety escorted him to the nearest off-ramp, one driving behind and one in front of him, with their hazard lights flashing.
The police issued him a ticket once he was safely off the highway. In central Berlin, a recent collision with a truck seriously injured a 26-year-old scooter rider.
Driven by a handful of Silicon Valley startups, electric scooters first gained popularity in the United States, becoming an alternative to bikes and public transportation in many cities.
New York state, where electric scooters have been prohibited, has been an exception. And although state lawmakers recently reached a deal to legalize them, under the new law, Manhattan will remain off-limits to rental companies like Bird and Lime.
While Copenhagen’s scooters have many fans, locals and tourists alike, others see them as an inconvenience or even a danger. Some have pushed the city and the scooter providers to do more with regard to safety concerns.
One Danish Twitter user noted that scooters discarded in the middle of a sidewalk made for difficult passage for blind people or those with reduced mobility.
Yael Bassan, who owns Copenhagen Bicycles, posts images and videos on Twitter that show her regularly removing electric scooters parked in front of her shop, which rents and sells bicycles in the city center. She called the scooters a “daily irritation” and said they were unfair competition for local businesses like hers.
Earlier this year, Line Holm Nielsen, a Danish journalist, wondered whether the electric scooters should be allowed on the streets of Copenhagen at all.
“They are lightning-fast, silent, without light, being used by children (sometimes two on one …) and generally by people without a helmet,” she tweeted. “Are they not a fatal accident waiting to happen?”