Australia braces for electric scooter boom as confusion reigns over state laws | Australia news

Retailers are preparing for a Christmas boom in the sale of electric scooters, even though it is illegal to ride them on public roads or footpaths in several states.

Federal and state regulation has struggled to keep up with the technology, leaving consumers at risk of inadvertently breaking the law.

In New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, it is legal to ride an e-scooter only on private property. In Tasmania, Victoria, the Northern Territory and the ACT, e-scooters below 200-watts may be ridden at speeds up to 10km/h in some public places.

Queensland is the only state or territory where an e-scooter above 200 watts can be ridden on footpaths, bike paths and local streets, and the only state where a rider can travel at speeds above 10km/h.

The ACT is aiming to legalise e-scooters and run an educational campaign before Christmas.

“People are selling them, so we need to get on to it,” an ACT government spokeswoman said.

“E-scooters are the kind of mobile and efficient transport that we are trying to encourage” she said, but “safety is paramount”.

Paul Sullivan, the head of electric scooters at Scooter Hut, said sales had “grown massively”, jumping to 50% of sales in some stores since they arrived on shelves 12 months ago. He said he was expecting “strong sales” in the lead-up to Christmas.

A spokesman for the share hire company Lime, Mitchell Price, said there were already more than 155,000 privately owned scooters in Australia.

Major retailers Harvey Norman and JB HiFi also stock the devices, including several high-powered models that can travel at speeds of up to 25km/h and are more powerful than the 200-watt limit defined by Australian Vehicle Standards.

Concerns over the safety of e-scooters have compounded the uncertain legal situation.

After a boom in take up in many countries, the use of e-scooters has been banned on footpaths in France, Germany, Singapore and Peru. In 2018 a 90-year-old woman died in Spain after she was hit from behind by an e-scooter in a pedestrian area.

The executive officer of Victoria Walks, Ben Rossiter, said retailers should “put community safety before blind profit” and advise customers of the law to protect pedestrians.

“Footpaths are the refuge of our most highly vulnerable road users – older people, parents and children, and those with a disability,” he said.

A study by the New Zealand Medical Association, released on Friday, reported 180 e-scooter-related injuries had been treated at Auckland hospitals over a four-month period, starting in October 2018, with 22% of injuries requiring surgery.

In Auckland, e-scooters can be ridden on a footpath, bike path or road. The e-scooter speed limit is the same as the road speed limit and riders are not required to wear helmets. The study recommended “greater regulation”.

Trials allowing the use of private and hired e-scooters within a defined area are now under way in Brisbane and Adelaide, with another planned to start in Darwin in coming months.

An e-scooter rider crosses the Goodwin Bridge in Brisbane. In states outside Queensland, federal and state regulation has struggled to keep up with the e-scooter technology, leaving consumers at risk of inadvertently breaking the law. Photograph: Albert Perez/AAP

Price said there had been a “groundswell” of councils wanting to give the trials a go, including City of Sydney, Randwick, Waverley and Northern Beaches councils in Sydney, Port Phillip council in Melbourne, Western Region and Coastal Alliance councils in Adelaide, and regional centres Geelong and Newcastle.

Christopher Hilton, of the Singapore-based share hire company Beam, said the company had engaged with “65 to 70 councils across Australia”.

“But we’re stuck waiting for Macquarie Street and Spring Street [the New South Wales and Victorian governments] to give us regulatory exemptions [for further trials],” said Price.

The general manager of Bicycle Industries Australia, Peter Bourke, said the legislation was “so fragmented in different states and territories, it actually makes the sale of scooters very problematic”.

Several stores contacted by Guardian Australia gave inaccurate advice on the laws.

At a JB HiFi store in Sydney, a sales assistant advised “they let us sell here, so they’re legal to ride”, while a staff member in Melbourne said “they’re legal to ride up to 30km/h on a footpath”.

Customer service at a Target store in Melbourne said e-scooters were legal to ride anywhere, “but you need to wear a helmet”, while a Harvey Norman Adelaide sales assistant said: “They’re legal. I see them riding around all the time.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said that under Australian consumer law, businesses must not provide information about products that are “false or misleading”.

Both NSW Fair Trading and Consumer Affairs Victoria said it was legal for retailers to sell e-scooters, but selling customers products based on information that is “misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive” carried a maximum penalty of $10m for a corporation.

A day after being contacted by Guardian Australia about the legal information it provided to customers, Target removed all e-scooter models and one hoverboard for sale from its website.

JB HiFi and Harvey Norman did not respond to requests for comment.

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