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    Citing Safety, Beijing Bans Unregistered Electric Scooters

    In 2022 alone, the city reported 131 traffic accidents caused by low-speed electric three- and four-wheeled vehicles, leading to 138 deaths. Police say substandard parts, missing safety features, and fire-prone batteries increase scooter risks.
    Jan 02, 2024#transport#policy

    Following a two-year transition period, the city of Beijing has enforced a total ban on low-speed electric three- and four-wheeled vehicles on roads and in public parking areas beginning Monday. 

    Dubbed laotoule or “elderly mobility scooters,” these vehicles do not require a driver’s license or registration plates. And on the popular e-commerce platform Taobao, they are priced between 5,000 yuan and 23,500 yuan ($700 to $3,300), making them far more affordable than electric cars. 

    In July 2021, citing significant safety concerns over the last few years, Beijing announced stricter regulations and provided residents a grace period to phase out non-compliant models.

    Last April, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau highlighted that the term “elderly mobility scooter” had been created by manufacturers while noting that many of these vehicles are illegal. 

    Police have pointed out their tendency to use substandard, inexpensive parts, leading to instability and a higher risk of accidents. Additionally, these scooters often lack essential safety features such as seat belts and bump-resistant structures, and use batteries that pose a fire hazard.

    In 2018, the traffic management department documented 830,000 traffic accidents involving such vehicles over a five-year span across China, resulting in 18,000 fatalities and 186,000 injuries. In 2022 alone, Beijing reported 131 traffic accidents caused by these vehicles, leading to 138 deaths.

    More recently, local media reported a tragic accident last November in the central Henan province when a 22-year-old female teacher was fatally struck by an elderly mobility scooter while she was grocery shopping. Following the accident, authorities deemed the scooter’s driver, a man over 70, responsible.

    Wei Zhensheng, deputy director of the Traffic and Transportation Professional Committee at the Beijing Lawyers Association, told Beijing Daily that in traffic accidents, regulators typically classify elderly mobility scooters as motor vehicles. 

    And due to the lack of registration and proper licensing for these vehicles and their operators, drivers of elderly mobility scooters are often held principally accountable in traffic incidents. In cases of severe accidents, Wei added, criminal charges can be brought against drivers.

    Zhang Xiang, director of the Digital Automotive International Cooperation Research Center at the World Digital Economy Forum, told Sixth Tone that Beijing’s ban on elderly mobility scooters will significantly impact the low-speed electric vehicle industry. “However, there remains high demand for such vehicles in rural areas and smaller cities, where residents may have lower incomes and face challenges in purchasing cars,” he said. 

    Zhang added that the affordability and ease of parking make these scooters a convenient option for the elderly. They often use them for daily tasks such as taking children to school or grocery shopping. Unlike standard motor vehicles, these scooters typically bypass stringent regulations, with many regions not requiring a driver’s license or vehicle registration.

    Following Beijing’s restrictions, Zhang said mini new energy vehicles — with four seats and three doors and requiring a license, registration plates, and insurance — might emerge as a viable alternative for the elderly’s travel needs. Since 2020, China has permitted individuals over 70 to apply for driver’s licenses for small cars and mopeds, enabling them to opt for safer, licensed vehicles.

    According to Zhang, a mini new energy vehicle may prove more economical. “They can run for 10 years, but an elderly mobility scooter may break down after two or three years. Without the supply of spare parts, it is inconvenient to repair and has a higher average cost of use,” said Zhang.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: A man drives a low-speed electric vehicle in Beijing, Jan. 24, 2018. VCG)