Where do we stand on e-scooters, legally speaking?


E-scooters are seen routinely on the roads now, so many would be surprised to learn that their use is restricted by law. E-scooters can only legally be ridden on public roads or cycle lanes if they are ridden within one of the 31 trial areas across the UK.

Most of the trial areas require riders to be over 18 and have at least a provisional driving licence. Privately owned e-scooters are even more restricted and can only be legally used on private land with the owner’s permission.

Because e-scooters are available off the shelf in many local bike shops, it is understandable that members of the public remain unaware of the legal restrictions on their use. In June 2021, the Metropolitan Police seized 507 illegally used e-scooters in a single week. With global e-scooter sales forecast to reach £20bn by 2025, public awareness of the law surrounding their use is crucial.

Dangers of use

Research has indicated that e-scooters are likely to be involved in 200,000 incidents in 2021. The study by dash-cam company Nextbase also concluded that e-scooter riders are 16 times more likely to be injured in a collision than car passengers, and separate research by Transport for London suggested road use of an e-scooter could be up to 100 times more dangerous than riding a bicycle.

One reason for the high level of incident could be related to the lack of understanding on the safety requirements of e-scooter use. For example, protective headgear is recommended by the Government, but it is not a legal requirement. Riders and vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, have incurred serious injuries from e-scooters, including traumatic head injuries and even death.

Road incidents involving e-scooters can have unexpected legal as well as injury-related consequences for riders. In a recent incident in Greater Manchester, a 14 year-old boy whose leg and wrist were broken in an e-scooter crash is said to also be at risk of penalty points on his driving licence once he applies for one, because the e-scooter was not being used legally.

The taxi driver involved had no action taken against them because the e-scooter was not legal for road use.

Some hospitals are now seeing as many patients involved in e-scooter accidents as they are cycling injuries, despite the wider limitations on their legal use. If the lack of public understanding over safe use of e-scooters continues, the situation will only get worse and injuries increase. Police representatives and road user groups have called for an end to e-scooter rental trials on safety grounds, but this would not address the wider issue of improper use of privately owned e-scooters.

Insurance issues

Along with more clarity about the legal use of e-scooters, greater discussion of the insurance issues involved is also needed. In many ways, use of e-scooters on public roads is treated the same by the law as use of motor vehicles, so it is sensible to also suggest and require compulsory registration similar to registering with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

This need not be a complicated process: registering an e-scooter could be made possible as an add-on to home contents insurance, for example.

Compulsory insurance would bring e-scooter use more in line with the pre-existing rules of the road and provide more clarity for everyone involved in serious injury cases. Charging road tax on e-scooter use would work towards funding a suitable insurance offering.

Registering e-scooter owners and/or users would make it easier to trace riders if they caused an accident. Without a clear insurance regime, it is going to be difficult for victims of e-scooter accidents to secure compensation when the e-scooter is used outside of an approved trial.

Where do we go from here?

The increasing visibility of e-scooters suggests they are here to stay. Their affordability and green credentials have made them a popular transport choice for young people. How then can the safety and legal issues be addressed?

Steps that would improve e-scooter safety include:

  • making helmets mandatory for e-scooter riders;
  • ensuring only those with a full driving licence can use e-scooters on public roads;
  • promoting greater awareness of the laws on e-scooter use, including knowledge of any criminal charges that can be brought against riders who break the law;
  • improved information to consumers at the point of sale, to confirm that the scooter would not be ‘insured’ for the purposes of an accident if ridden on public roads and pavements; and
  • registration and insurance for all e-scooter riders

Environmentally friendly e-scooters can play a major role in adapting public and private transport for a net zero future. Their complicated legal status together with a lack of public knowledge about where and how they can safely be used, will continue to cause problems for riders, other road users and pedestrians alike if changes to the current regime are not made. We hope that legislation and regulation will soon be enforced to make e-scooter use safer.

Lucie Clinch is a senior associate and knowledge development lawyer at Stewarts

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