With people told to avoid public transport amid the coronavirus, the government has said that rental e-scooters will become legal on roads in Great Britain.
At the moment you can buy an electric, or e-scooter, but you are not legally allowed to ride it on a UK public road, cycle lane or pavement. The only place an e-scooter can be used is on private land – with the permission of the landowner. The more traditional, non-motorised scooters are not allowed on pavements or cycle paths – but they can be used on roads*.
E-scooters are currently classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs), so they are treated as motor vehicles and are subject to all the same legal requirements – this including MOT, tax, licensing and specific construction. So because they don’t have visible rear red lights, number plates or signalling ability, they can’t legally be used on the roads.
Whilst the law covering e-bikes – or battery-assisted pedal cycles – doesn’t cover e-scooters, the UK government has voiced a need to regulate them similarly. The Department for Transport (DfT) wants to introduce urgent legislation to permit the trialling of e-scooter rental schemes.
Now, in response to challenges to personal travel safety presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is delivering a green restart of local transport with the £2bn Green Restart and Recovery plan. Four ‘future transport zones’ were initially chosen for the trials, these being:
- the West Midlands
- Portsmouth and Southampton
- the West of England Combined Authority (Bristol, Bath and surrounding areas); and
- Derby and Nottingham
The DfT is reviewing the existing regulations as part of the robust exercise necessary to inform the green restart. These regulations apply to e-scooters as a part of its Future of Transport programme. A call for evidence on micro-mobility vehicles (including e-scooters) was launched in March and ran until 3 July 2020. The initial trials were planned to be run just in the 4Future Transport Zones, but this was extended to other areas including Oxford from 9 May 2020 – in response to safety pressures related to the pandemic.
Under the proposed legislation, riders who decide to ride the approved ‘street legal’ e-scooters wouldn’t need to take out their own insurance to hire it, but they would need a full or provisional driving licence. It would still be illegal to use a privately-owned e-scooter on a public road, even within a trial area.
The government says it will monitor safety and keep the year-long scheme under review.
Can I be fined for using an e-scooter?
If you were to use a hired e-scooter outside of a trial area – yes, you could be fined.
Likewise, if you use a privately-owned e-scooter on any public road, cycle lane or pavement you are still committing an offense – chargeable with a £300 fixed-penalty notice and, if you have one, six points on your driving licence. At time of writing, Oxford has not yet issued any fixed penalty notices in relation to use of e-scooters.
What defines ‘street-legal?
This means that the e-scooter meets the DfT’s sub-category terms for an approved e-scooter for public hire. The terms include a maximum speed capacity of 12.5mph for the Oxford trail, a mass (including battery) of no more than 55kg, power setting that defaults to ‘off’, handlebar controls, maximum 500W continuous power, one front and one rear wheel – aligned, and no further propulsion features save the motor.
Are they safe?
Electric scooters can exceed 30mph (48.3km/h), although many are limited to 15.5mph (24.9km/h). Some e-scooters have only a single brake, which makes stopping safely more difficult.
Television presenter Emily Hartridge is believed to have been the first person to die in an accident involving an electric scooter in the UK, and our further research reveals:
- Business news site Quartz reported in February 2020 that at least 29 people had died in e-scooter accidents since 2018
- The Associated Press estimated in June 2019 that there had been 11 e-scooter deaths in the US since Autumn 2018
- Researchers at the University of California found that hospital admissions involving e-scooters more than doubled in the US between 2014-2018
So where are the trials happening now?
The UK government widened the scope of the scheme across the whole of Great Britain, in summer 2020, in light of the travel safety risks presented to public transport users by the continuing pandemic. So far, the trials have begun in Middlesborough (operated by Ginger). Not all contract appointments have been announced yet.
E-scooters’ popularity has grown and scooter-sharing schemes now operate in more than 100 cities around the world including San Francisco, Paris and Copenhagen.
People can hire e-scooters, often using smartphone apps, similarly to using urban bicycle hire schemes.
Who backs e-scooter legalisation?
There are strong advocates for the introduction of electric scooters in the UK.
The London Cycle Campaign (LCC) said: “The arrival of e-scooters offers a cleaner, low carbon alternative to cars and buses for those who can’t or don’t want to cycle.”
“LCC is calling for e-scooters to be legalised and allowed to use cycle tracks rather than be used on pavements.”
Who is managing the e-scooter trial in Oxford?
The appointed contractor for the Oxford trial has yet to be announced, and also the precise start date – although it was pencilled for October 2020 at the time of advertising.
Spin – the micromobility unit launched in San Francisco four years ago and owned by transport manufacturer Ford, is coordinating a number of the e-scooter trials in Britain, and has tendered for the oxford trial, as, it is believed, has Voi – the Stockholm-based business, and which also has the biggest UK contract package). Further discussion on providers of the trials can be read here in this Intelligent Transport article.
*obviously it is to be noted that this is not applied to young children