COUNTERING THE INACCURATE AND NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ON E-SCOOTERS
Written by Ed Wiles, Scootered Founder
Since the tragic death of YouTuber Emily Hartridge, several news outlets have produced negative publicity regarding e-scooters. I am writing this to counter the general "bad press" and specifically the article published by Sky News on 28 August 2019. But perhaps the first thing I should do is address Ms Hartridge's death and the unusual way in which it was treated: Ms Hartridge collided with a lorry at a London roundabout in July 2019. A cyclist died at the same place in July 2018, but when this cyclist died at the roundabout, no news outlets blamed the bicycle or the rider; yet for some reason, after Ms Hartridge's death, the e-scooter and/or Ms Hartridge seemed to be held liable. Then, before a coroner had the opportunity to review Ms Hartridge's death, the government announced a "crackdown" on e-scooters (though most police forces have ignored this). For a look at the safety of e-scooters, please read this post.
The Popular Xiaomi and Ducati Electric Scooters
The Sky News Article
In the Sky News article, David Mercer reported on the numbers of incidents involving personal transporters as provided by 27 police forces, with the headline “Electric scooters: Criminal damage and traffic collisions among hundreds of police incidents”. Again, the figures published related to all personal transporters (including Segways and hoverobards) and there was little differentiation between them - yet the headline singled out e-scooters for some reason (maybe so they could interview Ms Hartridge's boyfriend). They repeated the same figures in other media and disseminated it to other reporters. What I found most galling about the Sky News coverage was their interviewing of Ms Hartridge's boyfriend (Jake Hazell) as if they had unearthed the hidden dangers of e-scooters. However, a look at the few FOI responses given to Sky News that are already available online has highlighted many issues - and one major material inaccuracy.
E-Scooters Mixed Up With Scooters
As shown by its published document, North Wales Police did not distinguish between "normal" scooters and electric scooters, meaning Sky New's figures included those for scooters (and we all know how many crimes are committed by nobs on scooters) as well as e-scooters. I would (without any evidence) even be so bold as to suggest that the majority of these incidents were for scooter riders rather than e-scooter riders. I actually only came across this problematic FOI disclosure because I was making my own FOI requests for this article on e-scooter policing. However, having seen that such an enormous error had been made, I had a look to see what other responses to Sky News' FOI requests were available and found five more, two of which gave details of the incidents.
These two published documents revealed something startling. The whole implication of the Sky News article was that e-scooters and other personal transporters are being used in criminal activity in large numbers. However, these published documents show that the majority of incidents reported were actually reported by the owners of the personal transporters, who had reported crimes against them. In other words, the personal transporter owners were the victims, not the perpetrators of the crimes. Below, I explain how this is borne out by the two aforementioned documents (this one from West Yorkshire Police and this one from Northumbria Police). There was also the same problem with distinguishing e-scooters from other forms of transport, including normal scooters and mobility scooters.
West Yorkshire Police FOI Response
There were 41 incidents reported in 2019. However, five obviously referred to mobility scooters (one even states it is a mobility scooter), while two others obviously refer to normal scooters. Of the 32 incidents relating to personal transporters where there was an apparent victim and/or perpetrator (ie excluding lost/found etc), in 23 (72%) of the incidents it was the owner of the personal transporter who was the victim/reported the incident, while in only 9 (28%) cases was the perpetrator apparently the owner. Indeed, two incidents reported in June refer to verbal/physical attacks that were aimed at personal transporter owners seemingly purely for riding them.
Northumbria Police FOI Response
There were 10 incidents recorded in 2019. Five of these were reports of electric scooters being stolen. Another report was a hit-and-run where the e-scooter rider was the complainant. So more than half of the reported incidents were reported by e-scooter owners - who were the victims. Only two (20%) of the reported incidents could be considered to be complaints against riders of personal transporters.
False Claim Regarding Manchester
Sky News reported the figures provided by Greater Manchester Police specifically, claiming "182 incidents in the first half of 2019". However, this police force included a search for "E SCOOTER" (not asked for by Sky News) in their search of their incident reports and noted in their response to Sky News that, "The occurrence of these words and phrases in the message text or comments text does not necessarily mean that incidents are relevant to this request e.g. 2 DIRT BIKES AND ONE SCOOTER." In other words, every time an incident report included phrases such as "the scooter", "one scooter" or "three scooters" it would have been included in the provided data (because these phrases include the letters for "e scooter" within them) and Sky News was warned that the data cannot therefore be relied upon. Surely this would render all this data unusable? Yet the article reports the full data without any caveats.
Sky News also falsely stated "618 incidents were reported in the first half of 2019" (and likewise for the already inaccurate figure for Manchester, above) when their FOI requests asked for data from January 1st to July 15th and the police forces did not distinguish between those incidents reported before and after July 1st (the 182nd day of the year). There was thus an extra half month added to their half year (an extra 4.2% - or about 26 of the 618). Simply put, if Sky News wanted to reveal the figures for the "first half of 2019", they should have actually asked for those figures. As it is, they could only claim to have figures from January 1st to July 15th.
It would seem that e-scooter riders are more sinned against than sinning, yet that was not the implication made by Sky News. The misleading nature of the article and associated televised broadcast - whether deliberate or not - had the knock on effect that other journalists took it at face value and even exacerbated the problems. For instance, Mike Wright of the Daily Telegraph clearly misunderstood the information provided by Sky News when he led with the headline “Warning over e-scooters after police figures reveal thousands of road incidents” when the FOI responses show that only a limited number (certainly not "thousands") of these incidents could be considered road incidents. Indeed, I have made my own FOI requests and only two of the 21 police forces to have responded thus far has taken any action against e-scooter riders in 2019. You can see the tabulated results here.
Sky News could perhaps claim to have discounted North Wales Police's numbers but surely they would have asked North Wales Police for corrected figures if they had spotted the error - and they reported Greater Mancheter Police's figures in full desipte being warned they were unreliable. I doubt very much Sky News weeded out the other mistakes. I am minded to complain to Sky News and ask for a retraction but am aware that the problem with this kind of fake news is that the damage has already been done. However, I must say that I am surprised at the sheer number of issues I found in just the few responses that are already available - although the initial mistakes were made by the police forces rather than Sky News - and would expect Sky News to have a system in place to spot such errors. I am sure that I would find many more issues in the FOI responses if and when the other responses are made available.
I emailed Sky News at the email they provide (email@example.com) to give them the opportunity to comment on this article before I shared/linked to it but the email bounced with a "mailbox is full" response.