Vision Australia urges transport ministers to keep footpaths safe for blind and low vision pedestrians

19 November 2020

Footpaths will be increasingly unsafe for people who are blind or have low vision if state and territory governments continue to allow e-scooters and similar vehicles to encroach on them.

The National Transport Commission will consider a Regulatory Impact Statement at its meeting on Friday, November 20 that could pave the way for widespread use of these vehicles on footpaths.

Vision Australia has written to multiple state and territory transport ministers urging them to put the safety of pedestrians first and ban the use of these vehicles on footpaths.

E-scooters have become a common sight in cities such as Canberra and Brisbane, while electric and other powered bikes are also more common than ever. Chris Edwards, Vision Australia manager of government relations and advocacy, said this has had a severe impact on the blind and low vision community across Australia.

“For people who are blind or have low vision, it’s vital that footpaths are a safe space. We rely on these footpaths to be able to travel independently and be active members of the community. We deserve the same right to that as the wider community,” Chris, who is blind and Seeing Eye Dog handler, said.

“The fact is that e-scooters and other powered vehicles take this away from us. Some of these vehicles can travel at speeds of up to 50km/h, which is the same speed limit as many residential streets in Australia. Even at speeds of 25km/h, a collision between a pedestrian and rider can cause significant injury,” he said.

Chris said Vision Australia believes speed limits for the use of these vehicles on footpaths do little to protect pedestrians due to the difficulty in enforcing them. There is also no licencing or accreditation process before people can use them.

“Research from the Monash University Accident Research Centre in 2018 has shown that 35% of people who are blind or have low vision have had a collision or near miss with an electric or hybrid car, while 75% indicated the introduction of these vehicles have reduced their confidence in walking,” Chris said.

“The proliferation of e-scooters and similar vehicles adds to this and other burdens people who are blind or have low vision already face in trying to navigate public places. If this continues, Vision Australia believes footpaths will become too dangerous for people who are blind or have low vision to use.”

Even when not being ridden, Chris said these vehicles continue to pose a risk.

“Under the shared e-scooter schemes in places like Canberra and Brisbane, users can download an app and jump on a scooter, before leaving it where they like.

“This creates a situation where discarded scooters litter footpaths and other public places and make it impossible for people who are blind or have low vision to safely navigate them.”

Chris said Vision Australia believes there is an obligation of governments to ensure footpaths are safe for all pedestrians, not just those who are blind or have low vision, and will continue to advocate this to all levels of government.

“We’re committed to making public spaces safe and accessible for our community. We’re more than happy to meet with ministers, members of parliament, department officials or whoever else to ensure someone who is blind or have low vision can safely walk down the street.”

Ends.

For further media enquiries: Phil McCarroll, 0416 632 253