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The mandatory theory test is yet another measure aimed at coercing obedience on our shared roads. Is that enough to create safer roads for all users?

06 May 2021

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that from 30 June, electric scooter and electric bicycle riders will have to take a mandatory online theory test. This test will cover three modules, and two handbooks have been published online that cover general information on active mobility devices, pre-journey and equipment checks, as well as the rules and codes of conduct for using the devices.

This announcement comes after a slate of incidents involving Personal Mobility Devices (PMD), with the latest headline being an e-scooter rider pleading guilty to causing the death of an elderly cyclist in a 2019 accident. The Government has also continually been reviewing regulations when it comes to PMDs, with the latest set of restrictions being put in place in August 2020.

So, will this mandatory theory test help curb the number of accidents? Is that enough to make roads safer for everyone?

Necessary enforcement

With PMD usage on the rise and a slate of incidents, regulation is necessary and expected
This theory test is yet another step in a continuing uptick of enforcement of such devices, starting with the Active Mobility Act (AMA) established in 2018. And of course, enforcement is necessary. Just as cars and motorcycles have to abide by traffic rules and regulation, it is only logical that other modes of transport need to meet certain regulatory standards as well.

Adhering to speed limits is a key part to safety. Presently, there is an e-scooter/e-bike inspection, which enforces the weight, size and speed limit of the device. Beyond the initial inspection, motorised PMDs are required to undergo inspection every two years. In all likelihood, this inspection interval will probably be revised and shortened if incidents continue to occur regularly.

Unsurprisingly, the Government is very quick and effective in wielding the stick - more rules and regulation, increasing enforcement, harsher punishment. 

Limits to enforcement

Continuing to just impose new rules and increase enforcement will only create further tension among PMD users
While the AMA allows LTA the legislative and enforcement tools to regulate the sale and use of such devices, there are still limits to such enforcement.

What's next? A practical test in the vein of motorcyclists and car drivers? Establishing a new driving license? No, that doesn't seem practical. Beyond just the logistical challenges, as Singapore pursues a car-lite future, creating new barriers to entry to the adoption of such mobility devices seems fundamentally unproductive and counter intuitive.

At this rate, we should not continue to just impose new rules and increase enforcement. This will only continue to create further tension among PMD users, especially those that may rely on such devices for their livelihoods (such as delivery riders).

Creating clear rules of conduct on shared pathways is important, but educating individuals to be better road users must also be done
Increasing levels of enforcement also doesn't fundamentally address the fact that pedestrian walkways are a shared space. In spite of additional regulation and increased enforcement, the Government is arguably not doing enough to address the root of the problem.

Building a new eco-system

This new theory test also puts the onus of responsibility on the individual. Yes, while it would be great if everyone was a courteous road user and followed all the rules, we all know that isn't always the case.

Further complicating the matter is the distinction between pedestrian footpaths, cycling paths or PCNs, as well as roads. Different types of PMDs are allowed on different types on paths, and I honestly couldn't tell you which is which.

There should be continued and dedicated investment in improving infrastructure to better faciliate the safe use of PMDs 
There is a fundamental disconnect between PMD users and pedestrians. As pedestrians, there should also be better awareness that we exist in shared spaces. Whether it's improved signposting, a broader outreach and education program, or increased clarity about proper usage of PMDs, pedestrians too should take some responsibility for creating safer shared spaces (as evidenced by the implementation of a pedestrian code of conduct).

This new mandatory theory test is a step in the right direction, but ultimately it is but a stop-gap measure. To further improve the safety of all road users, there is a need to establish more cycling paths that will allow e-bicycle and e-scooter users to travel on, separate from pedestrian footpaths. This will fundamentally reduce the interaction between these distinct groups, and thus reduce the chances of accidents.

Just as cars on the roads have lane markings to help people keep a safe distance from one another, our footpaths and cycling paths should be clearly delineated too. Will that mean no accidents will happen? Of course not. Accidents happen on roads too. But, it will establish a distinct transportation eco-system that no amount of online tests can do.

Creating a distinct transportation eco-system will allow pedestrians and PMD users to better co-exist
The Copenhagenize Index is the most comprehensive and holistic ranking of bicycle-friendly cities across the world. Three key parameters play into the index - streetscape parameters (focusing on infrastructure), culture parameters (focusing on perception and image), and ambition parameters (focused on legislation and advocacy).

Singapore has a long way to go, but investment is required across all three parameters. Further enforcement and more tests do little to further the streetscape and cultural parameters to make mobility devices a more accessible, practical and safer means of getting around.

As we continue to address the matter of co-existing with other forms of transportation on our roads and pathways, it would be prudent to take a multi-prong approach. More rules and enforcement are just one aspect. There should also be continued investment in infrastructure to create a conducive environment within which PMDs can operate, thus, minimising their overlap with pedestrians and motor vehicles.

Enforcing regulations on PMDs is important, but that should go hand-in-hand with promoting better user behaviour and creating a more conducive riding environment
At the same time, there should be continued investment in softer approaches - improving literacy with regards to regulatory rules and practical courtesy in public spaces, increasing outreach with regards to the benefits of the safe and proper usage of PMDs, and creating a more shared consensus with regards to the role of PMDs on our roads. Greater emphasis should be placed on education, including initiative like the Move Happy campaign. 

This is the carrot that must come with the inevitable stick. Instead of simply disciplining PMD users to get them to become 'less-bad' riders, there is also a need to offer some clear incentives and benefits to motivate PMD users to become 'more-good' riders.

At the same time, there is a need for better education such that all road users learn to be more courteous and accommodating to one another. It is only then that we can see better behaviour from all parties - drivers, riders, and pedestrians who all co-exist within our larger transportation eco-system.

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