“No License Required” for Electric Kick Scooters based on the Experimental Results
The revised Road Traffic Law concerning “specified small motorized bicycles” (so-called electric kick scooters, etc.), approved by the Cabinet on March 4 this year, was passed and enacted at a plenary session of the House of Representatives on April 19, and will come into effect within two years.
Under the current law, electric kick scooters are treated the same as motorized bicycles (mopeds) under both the Road Traffic Law and the Road Trucking Vehicle Law. Of course, a license to drive a moped is required, helmets must be worn, and they can only be ridden on roadways.
However, the revised Road Traffic Law changes the following:
(1) Electric kick scooters with a maximum speed of 20 km/h or less do not require a driver’s license (must be 16 years of age or older).
(2) Electric kick scooters with a maximum speed of 6 km/h or less may be ridden on sidewalks . (Only sidewalks with zones set aside for bicycles can be used.)
Helmets are not mandatory in either case, but an effort is required (i.e., not necessary).
The “speed of 20 km/h or less” and “speed of 6 km/h” above do not mean that a person must drive at or below those speeds, but rather that the electric kickboard’s body is adjusted to prevent it from going faster than those speeds. Incidentally, a speed of 20 km/h is a little faster than that of a bicycle. A speed of 6 km/h is about the speed of a brisk walk.
The use of electric kick scooters is growing, especially among the younger generation in urban areas, and sharing services are expanding nationwide. At first glance, deregulation appears to increase the number of electric kickboard users and expand their means of transportation. But many are more skeptical about the revised Road Traffic Law.
This is because the number of traffic violations and accidents associated with the use of electric kick scooters has skyrocketed, raising questions about safety measures.
Surprising “experimental results” conducted by Saitama Prefectural Police
On what evidence did the National Police Agency base its decision that “a license is not required if the speed is 20 km/h or less?” Here are the results of a surprising experiment. The following is a quote from the “Report of the Study Group of Experts on Traffic Rules for Various Traffic Entities,” which was the basis for the revised Road Traffic Law.
The results are from a “driving experiment” conducted at the Saitama Prefectural Police Driver’s License Center on January 23 (Saturday), 30 (Saturday), February 6 (Saturday), and 21 (Sunday), 2021.
The study was conducted with 100 people who had never driven an electric kickboard before, 50 with a license and 50 without a license. The age groups were divided into the following five generations
(1) 16-17 years old (10 with/10 without a driver’s license)
(2) 18-19 years old (10 with/10 without a driver’s license)
(3) 20-39 years old (10 with/10 without a driver’s license)
(4) 40-59 years old (10 with/10 without a driver’s license)
5) 60 years old and over (10 with/10 without a driver’s license)
The test course was driven on an electric kickboard, and the subjects were scored on the 18 driving items in Table 1 below. Table 2 shows a numerical score based on the number of times the subjects committed violations while driving, broken down by age group with/without a driver’s license as indicated in (1) through (5) above.
While there is not much difference in the average number of violations among 16- and 17-year-olds, there is a nearly four-fold difference among 18- to 19-year-olds and those aged 60 and older. Overall, there is also a large difference between those with a license and those without a license, with 26.6 times and 69.94 times, respectively.
Although not shown in Table 2, what specific violations showed a large difference?
- Failure to stop at a designated place 347 points/1337 points
- Disregarding traffic signals 176/541 points
- Driving on the right side of the road (driving on the wrong side) 64/235 points
- Violation of right/left turn method 58.1/91.3 points
- Non-stop pedestrian protection, etc. 44/84 points
Scores are from left to right: “with/without driver’s license”.
The difference between licensed and unlicensed drivers is obvious, yet the conclusion is that “no difference” can be seen.
As shown above, depending on the type of violation, there was a difference of approximately four times. This shows how dangerous it is to ride an electric kickboard without a license. What is surprising, however, are the comments in the section marked “Results,” which analyzes and summarizes the quantified results as shown in Table 2.
Despite the large difference between licensed and unlicensed.
The report concludes, “There was not much difference in many violations, and overall, there was no significant difference in driver behavior.”
In summary, the report states.
It can be said that there is no significant overall difference in driving behavior between licensed and non-licensed drivers, with the exception of a few items. Although some individual violations show large differences, these are thought to be solely due to differences in knowledge of traffic rules.
The reason for the large difference in individual violations is “due to differences in knowledge of traffic rules. This is too obvious a reason. It is only natural that those who do not have a driver’s license do not have sufficient knowledge of traffic rules.
Needless to say, this nonsensical conclusion led to the National Police Agency’s submission on March 7 of a bill to partially revise the Road Traffic Law, which would make it unnecessary to obtain a license if the speed is 20 km/h or less.
According to the National Police Agency’s summary, there were 168 cases of electric kickboard users being caught violating the Road Traffic Law nationwide between September 2021 and February 2022, when the current law mandated licensed driving. More than half of these (86 cases) were for “traffic zone violations,” such as riding on sidewalks, which are prohibited. In the case of the “road violation,” the driver of the vehicle was found to be in violation of the traffic laws, and was charged with a total of 168 violations. However, it is assumed that the users thought that they could ride on sidewalks, which are not public roads. Again, the only sidewalks where electric kick scooters can be ridden are those with zones set aside for bicycles. I think this kind of awareness can only be achieved if the licensing system is left in place.
It is clear that if the revised Road Traffic Law is enforced as is, the above-mentioned horrible misunderstanding will be rampant everywhere, and the world will be flooded with electric kick scooters driven by outlaws with rules as lax as those for bicycles, resulting in many injuries and deaths.
Why would anyone want to deregulate and even promote the use of electric kick scooters? One theory is that, in areas such as the Tokyo metropolitan area where public infrastructure is inadequate, trains and buses are increasingly reduced or closed, and many areas rely on parents to take their children to and from school, etc. More options for transportation would help solve this problem. Furthermore, it is said that even in Tokyo, where parking is scarce and alleys are convoluted, electric kick scooters can be used by many younger people who do not have a car license because of their small radius.
Unfortunately, the perspective of traffic safety, which must be considered as a prerequisite, is missing from the discussion. Please don’t let the rapid spread of new means of transportation threaten automobiles and motorcycles, which follow the rules to a tee, and pedestrians walking on sidewalks, which are supposed to be safe.
Interview, text, and photography： Kumiko Kato Photo： Hiroto Kato