The much-discussed decision to allow e-scooters on Germany’s bike lane and streets made in mid-2019 will no doubt feature in one or two end-of-year reviews. Rented scooters have since become part of everyday life in many cities, and the verdict is mixed, to say the least. One thing we have learned is that new types of vehicle can also cause new problems. To find solutions quickly, local authorities and providers in Germany have expressed the need for action and coordination in a „Memorandum of Understanding“.
One interesting aspect of this is what is known as geofencing. This means the rental firm knows when e-scooters enter pedestrian zones or other prohibited areas. The rental scooter then automatically lowers its speed. This initially sounds like a good and justified idea. After all, many users do not follow the rules, whether by driving under the influence of alcohol, with a second rider or on the pavement. In cases like these, an automatic speed limit is the ideal solution.
Geofencing for e-scooters – and cars?
If this can work for a fairly simple and small electric vehicle that can travel at a maximum of 20 kilometres per hour, why not transfer the concept to larger vehicles such as cars? According to a study conducted by the University of Duisburg-Essen’s CAR Institute, there are currently 47.1 million cars in Germany, equivalent to 567 vehicles for every 1,000 people. Ten years ago, this figure was 504 vehicles per 1,000 people. The number of cars in cities is also continuing to rise, making it all the more important to develop new road safety concepts – and why should something that is considered legitimate for e-scooters suddenly be regarded as an unwelcome interference with the freedom to drive too fast when it is applied to cars?
A possible model for 30kph zones
Geofencing could be introduced in 30kph zones and outside schools and kindergartens, for example. This would relieve all drivers of the stress of constantly checking their speedometer, as their vehicles would automatically travel no faster than the maximum permitted speed. From my admittedly subjective experience, many drivers simply find it too difficult to maintain their speed in a 30kph zone. A speed of 40kph seems to be considered an acceptable breach, despite the fact that this already exceeds the speed limit by more than 30 percent, with all of the consequences this brings for stopping distances, noise and accident severity.
Geofencing should be possible on all newer vehicle models at the very least. It would also be an elegant way to introduce semi-autonomous driving, as it would improve road safety and reduce traffic noise. You could hardly ask for more when it comes to developing forward-looking transport policy. Admittedly, a few small technical and legal aspects still require clarification. For example, rental vehicles only make up a very small proportion of the cars on the road. Nevertheless, if e-scooters can get political backing, then surely this can too.