Less effort than a bicycle, more convenient than buses and less polluting than cars, electric-scooter use is on the rise across UK towns and cities. However, the death of the YouTube star Emily Hartridge, who was killed while riding an e-scooter in July this year, has prompted closer scrutiny of their safety. The Government has since been reminding retailers of their responsibility to inform customers that e-scooters aren’t road-legal.
With calls to reform road laws to allow e-scooter use, this Insight takes a closer look at the current law surrounding their use, explores how other countries have regulated e-scooters and considers the rise of scooter sharing around the world.
What are e-scooters?
E-scooters are battery-powered personal transport devices that appear to offer solutions to a wide range of transport policy goals.
Manufacturers claim that e-scooters could help to reduce congestion and improve air quality by getting people out of their cars, while supporting first and last mile transport to and from public transport terminals. For instance, e-scooter ride sharing apps have been launched in many cities around Europe as an offshoot of the now familiar cycle-hire sharing schemes seen in London and the rest of the UK.
E-scooters could also offer a simple and cheap means to get around for those less physically able or mobile.
Are e-scooters legal in the UK?
While it is legal to buy or sell an e-scooter, riding them on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes is against the law.
E-scooters are classed as a ‘powered transporter’ and are covered by the same laws and regulations that apply to all motor vehicles. As such, e-scooters would need to meet the different requirements (e.g. road tax, technical safety standards) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to use public roads lawfully. Currently, e-scooters on the market cannot do so.
Gov.uk says that if manufacturers think their design does meet all the technical requirements needed for power transporters, they can submit it to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency for approval.
Also, the 1988 Act (section 34) together with the Highways Act 1835 (section 72) bans e-scooters (or as the law refers to them ‘mechanically propelled vehicles’ ) from pavements, cycle paths and public footpaths. This means that riders could face a £300 fine and six points on their licence if they use them on public roads or pavements. Riding e-scooters on private land is, however, completely legal – with the landowner’s permission.
Are there plans to change the law?
Not yet, but maybe in due course.
The Government has said it is mindful of evolving technologies and the “blurring of previously long established vehicle definitions.” Accordingly, it has committed to conduct a regulatory review that will consider options for appropriate testing regimes for e-scooters (and other micromobility vehicles). It expects to consult on initial proposals in the autumn of 2019. Some press reports have seen this as an indication the law will change, but there remain significant safety concerns over “deadly electric scooters” for the safety of riders, pedestrians and other road users.
Where is it legal to ride e-scooters in Europe?
E-scooters are now a familiar sight in many cities across Europe and elsewhere. However, in some cities a lack of regulation has led to problems including dockless e-scooters littering streets and safety concerns.
In Paris, where 12 start-up companies provide e-scooters around the city, the mayor recently imposed restrictions on their use. These include fines for driving them on the pavement (€135) or parking them in doorways, crosswalks and other busy places (€35).
Other countries, such as the Netherlands, require e-scooters to be authorised by vehicle licensing authorities. The German Government, since legalising their use on roads, has imposed speed restrictions and age limits.
What next for e-scooters on UK roads?
The Government’s future mobility strategy makes it clear that safety for all road users will be of paramount importance if any changes are made to e-scooter regulations.
The strategy also suggests that pilot schemes will be used to inform any future decisions. Although not mentioned in the strategy, an electric scooter trial in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (the first to take place in the UK) has been running since November 2018 and is due to finish at the end of September. It provides an alternative form of transport to get around the 560-acre space in east London.
While we may see e-scooters on UK roads in the years ahead, more work is to be done to ensure they can be a safe addition.
About the author: David Hirst is a Senior Library Clerk at the House of Commons Library, specialising in business and transport.