Should electric scooter riders in Germany be forced to wear helmets?

It’s been just under two months since e-scooters were given the green light to hit Germany’s roads. But after a series of accidents, experts are warning of their dangers.

Should electric scooter riders in Germany be forced to wear helmets?
An e-scooter rider and cyclists in Berlin. Photo: DPA

According to police there have been several accidents on roads and pavements across Germany. In Berlin at least seven serious accidents have occurred so far. Those involved have suffered broken bones and head injuries.

E-scooters have been appearing on streets across Germany since the government gave them the go-ahead in May. Local broadcaster RBB revealed this week there are already 4,800 e-scooters in Berlin.

READ ALSO: Impatient train passenger takes electric scooter onto German Autobahn

Frankfurt and Hamburg have reported a handful of accidents, while there’s been at least six incidents in Munich so far. In Stuttgart, authorities said they had not been made aware of any accidents.

“This shows how dangerous driving an electric scooter is and how underestimated it is by some,” Christian Kellner, general manager of the German Road Safety Council, told DPA.

It’s led to calls for helmets to be made compulsory for e-scooter riders. In Germany, it is optional to wear a helmet when riding an electric scooter or a bicycle.

“If the accident situation continues to deteriorate and more people with head injuries and fractures are admitted to hospitals, we need to consider compulsory helmets,” Kellner said.  “Then the federal government together with the states would have to adapt the regulation accordingly.”

'Helmets won't fix problems'

However, Alexander Jung, senior associate in new mobility at Agora, which aims to promote the creation of a sustainable, climate friendly transport system, said he didn't think this was the way forward.

“I don’t see it coming in Germany to be honest,” he told The Local. “I don’t think helmets will be a fix to this problem.”

Jung said the focus should be on the amount of traffic on roads and not purely on the e-scooters.

“All the accidents we’ve seen so far in Germany have been related to accidents with cars,” he said.

“I also find it quite surprising that a car runs over a scooter rider then we call for stronger regulation of scooters. The actual problem is too much car traffic and too many private vehicles in the city.”

E-scooter users must stick to a speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour and be aged 14 years or older. The vehicles must be used on cycle paths – if there are none, users have to go on the road and avoid pavements.

Should helmets be worn when riding an e-scooter? Photo: DPA

Jung added that the speed limit for e-scooters in Germany was already lower than other countries where it is around 25km/h, indicating that measures have already been taken to make the roads safer.

Instead of introducing compulsory helmets, Jung said better infrastructure for cyclists, which is shared by e-scooter riders, should be implemented.

“I think we need to work much more on the infrastructure for cycling and this is a win-win situation because it creates more safety for cyclists and riders of electric scooters,” he said. “That would be my suggestion.”

'Tripping hazards'

Road safety associations agreed that improved cycling infrastructure, such as extra cycle lanes, needs to be put in place.

But experts insist that more education on the risks involved with the two-wheeled craze is urgently needed.

“Everyone needs to know how to drive the vehicles, and when and which accident risks exist,” Kellner said. 

READ ALSO: Will fines for electric scooter riders in Germany improve safety?

The manufacturers and sharing providers, who can provide information directly via the app that users book the scooters on, have been urged to step up their action and give out more safety tips. 

Kellner added that pedestrians have also been facing problems. He said “carelessly parked e-scooters are tripping hazards on pavements”.

In addition, some electric scooter riders have already been hit with fines – often because they were caught riding under the influence.

A spokeswoman for the General German Automobile Club (ADAC) appealed to e-scooter users to behave responsibly.

“E-scooters are motor vehicles so the same strict rules apply as when driving a car,” an ADAC spokeswoman said.

The ADAC said it was positive that vehicle providers use their apps to give out additional safety information. But they could go even further – the ADAC suggested e-sharing companies could offer training to riders.

“It is in the interest of manufacturers and sharing firms that there is no e-scooter chaos in our cities,” said the spokeswoman.

With reporting by DPA

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EXPLAINED: How Germany is finally set to improve Wifi and phone signal on trains

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn says it will seriously improve the country's notoriously patchy Wifi and phone signal on trains. How will it get up to speed?

EXPLAINED: How Germany is finally set to improve Wifi and phone signal on trains
A passenger connects to the on-board Wifi on a train in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance / Andreas Arnold/dpa | Andreas Arnold

What’s going on? 

The chairman of Deutsche Bahn appeared in a press conference with the CEO of Deutsche Telekom on Wednesday to announce a new partnership which they say will “radically improve” Wifi and phone signal throughout the German rail network.

From 2026, the companies want all passengers be able to make calls and surf the internet on all routes without interruption and with vastly improved data rates. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

In a press release following the announcement, Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges said the companies wanted to make Germany “more digital”. 

“Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Bahn have a shared responsibility for their customers,” he said. “That’s why we are now also tackling the issue of rail coverage together and want to ensure that customers can make phone calls, surf and stream in the best quality.”

So, what’s the plan? 

Bahn and Telekom are basically planning to build out the network coverage of the railways step by step over a period of five years.

The German rail network covers almost 34,000 kilometres, with around 7,800 kilometres of this making up the country’s key rail routes for ICE and IC trains. This is the part of the rail network that the two companies plan to focus on first, with the aim of providing seamless coverage by 2024. 

By 2025, the companies plan to supply another 2,000 daily passengers with consistent Wifi by covering another 13,800 kilometres of busy rail networks.

Then, the following year, travellers on smaller regional routes will also get phone signal on their trains – in some cases for the first time. 

Telekom said it would be putting around 800 new cell sites into operation in the coming years, as well as expanding its capacity at hundreds of other sites in order to improve the mobile network all along the railway lines. 

Sounds expensive. Who’s paying?

It certainly is. The expansion to the network will likely to cost hundreds of millions of euros, with Telekom and Bahn splitting the costs between them.

According to Höttges, Telekom has invested €700 million into railway mobile networks since 2015, and plans to invest a further €300 million over the next five years. 

Meanwhile, the Bahn has set aside €150-200 million to invest in the project.

READ ALSO: Delayed train? Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to give online refunds for first time

It’s unclear if this will include money from government subsidies, though the German Minister for Transport, Andreas Scheuer (CSU), did appear with the two companies at the press conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

Deutsche Bahn is a private, joint-stock enterprise, though the German government is its sole shareholder.

Is the mobile network situation really that bad?

While Germany is in the midst of digitalising its economy, the train network is widely regarded as one of the weakest areas of mobile network coverage. According the a report by the Federal Network Agency, mobile network providers currently only supply around 94.4 to 98.2 percent of the railway routes with service.

While this may not sound particularly bad, the result is often patchy signal, interminable dead zones, and phone calls that continuously cut out – especially on Germany’s smaller regional train routes. 

The Wifi symbol is displayed on the door of a German high-speed train. Photo: picture alliance / Soeren Stache/dpa | Soeren Stache

At present, there are around 550 more antennas needed near railway tracks to provide passengers with decent mobile reception. 

According to Höttges, trains in Austria and Switzerland offer much better Wifi and mobile service than in Germany.

Haven’t we been here before? 

You could say this is something of an ongoing project.

Passengers have been clamouring for better Wifi on German trains for years, and in 2015, the government stipulated that the mobile networks on rail routes had to improve.

At this point, the telecoms companies were given a deadline of 2019, which Höttges made reference to in his speech at the press conference. 

“We’re running late with this, I’m aware of that,” he told reporters. 

In 2019, the government set a target of achieving 100mb-per-second internet across all the busiest train routes in Germany by 2022.

Does this mean we’ll have superfast broadband on trains soon?

Not exactly. From 2024/5, Deutsche Telekom is promising data rates of up 200mb per second along all major rail routes, which is considered an average base speed for urban areas. 

According to tech blogger Ken Lo of Ken’s Tech Tips, with 200mp-per-second download speeds, you can watch eight ultra-HD films on eight different devices, or download an entire album of music in three seconds. 

In other words, it should be more than enough to watch a film or two on a train journey.

For smaller regional train routes, passengers can expect speeds of 100mb per second, which still counts as “fast” broadband, but on the lower end of the scale. 

Does it matter that I don’t have a Telekom mobile contract?

If you enjoy making phone calls on trains, it could be beneficial to get Telekom as your mobile network provider, since the increased reception will primarily benefit people with Telekom contracts.

However, if you just like using the on-train Wifi, your provider won’t make a great deal of difference, since you’ll be connecting to Telekom’s wireless network anyway. 

READ ALSO: Deutsche Bahn to introduce its own ‘Siri’ to better assist customers

It’s also important to mention that the other mobile network providers haven’t been resting entirely on their laurels.

Vodafone and Telefonica have also been involved in talks with Deutsche Bahn about improving the mobile signal along the rail network in line with government targets. 

According to recent news reports, these talks are still ongoing. 

What are people saying about it?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Minister for Transport Andreas Scheuer (CSU), who had pushed for a deal between the two firms, hailed the move as an end to the ‘I have no network’ era.

“Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom are showing the way by systematically closing the gaps in the mobile network on all rail routes and significantly increasing data rates once again,” he said in a statement. “This is what the future of train travel looks like.”

But not everyone was as excited by the promise of better mobile reception – or the 2026 deadline – as Andreas Scheuer.

Sharing a picture of the Morgenpost on Twitter, software developer Andrew France summed up the news story in a single line.

“Hot of the press is that you’ll be able to make phone calls on trains from 2026,” he wrote.