Table of contents
1. E-scooter trials
Whilst it is legal to buy and sell e-scooters, there are limitations on where they can be used. Retailers are obliged to ensure that consumers are given sufficient information when purchasing an e-scooter and are not misled. It is lawful to use e-scooters on private land with the landowner’s permission.
At present, e-scooters fall within the legal definition of a motor vehicle. This means they would need to comply with the requirements motor vehicles must meet in order to be allowed to drive on roads, including insurance; technical standards; payment of vehicle tax, licensing and registration; driver testing and licensing; and the use of relevant safety equipment. E‑scooters do not meet these requirements. It is also illegal to use them in spaces set aside for pedestrians, cyclists or horse-riders, including pavements and cycle lanes. Anyone found committing these offences could be prosecuted and receive a penalty ranging from a fine to imprisonment. The UK laws that apply to these criminal offences are the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Highway Act 1835. The exception to this is when e-scooters are rented as part of an official trial.
In answer to a written question on 23 June 2022, Trudy Harrison, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Transport, set out the current regulations which apply to the public use of e-scooters via trials:
As motor vehicles having fewer than 4 wheels and weighing less than 410 kg unladen, e-scooters are classed as motorcycles as defined in Section 185 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and, because of their low speed, within the subclass of moped. This means that e-scooters have to abide by the same road traffic legislation as mopeds and motorcycles.
The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (SI 2020/663) were introduced to allow the e-scooter trials to take place. The regulations remove or relax requirements for rental e-scooters being used in a permitted trial area, in a way which is proportionate to the vehicle type, to enable trials to take place on public roads.
The Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/75) further refined the application of the TSRGD to e-scooters being used in a trial to clarify where e-scooters are permitted for use within defined trial areas.
The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 came into force on 4 July 2020 and amended UK law to enable the rental e-scooter trials to take place. As at the end of October 2021, the government said there were 22,644 rental e-scooters available across all trial areas. Trials were intended to run for 12 months from the point they commenced in each area, with the possibility of extension with local or national government agreement. On 24 December 2021, the Guardian reported that the government had extended several trial areas to November 2022.
There are over 30 areas across the UK involved in the trials, including Bournemouth and Poole, Derby, Liverpool, Newcastle, and certain London boroughs. In these trial areas, it is legal for rental, but not privately owned, e-scooters to be used on roads (excluding motorways) and in cycle lanes, but not on pavements. There are several requirements for riders, including holding a driving licence. Government guidance states that safety equipment such as helmets should be worn but this is not a legal requirement. The speed of the e-scooters is limited to 15.5 miles per hour and they must have automatic lights.
The government established a national monitoring and evaluation programme to help it assess the outcome of the e-scooter trials. In a letter from the government to the chair of the House of Commons Transport Committee on 23 March 2021 about e-scooter trials, it confirmed that an evaluation contract had been awarded to professional services organisation Arup, working in partnership with social researchers Nat Cen. The evaluation is looking at the usage, availability, and user demographic of e-scooters during the trial, amongst other things. Data is also being collected on accidents and injuries in trial areas.
2. Safety concerns
Incidents of harm involving e-scooters have been widely reported in recent years. The Department for Transport reported the following provisional casualty figures for 2021:
- 1,280 collisions involving e-scooters, compared to 460 in 2020
- 309 included one e-scooter with no other vehicles involved in the collision (single vehicle collision), compared to 83 in 2020
- there were 1,359 casualties, compared to 484 in 2020
- of all casualties, 1,034 were e-scooter users, compared to 384 in 2020
- there were nine deaths (all of whom were e-scooter riders) compared to one in 2020
On 7 January 2022, Sky News reported that there had been 258 collisions in London during the first six months of 2021, according to Metropolitan Police data. In addition, Transport for London (TfL) recently imposed a ban on privately owned e-scooters on all TfL premises and services following safety concerns.
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts) has been assessing the safety of private e-scooter use in the UK. Pacts is a registered charity that provides the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Transport Safety. It said that there were almost 300 recorded injury-collisions involving private e-scooters in 2021. The data does not include near-misses and collisions in which no injuries were sustained.
Campaigners on disability issues have also highlighted the challenges an increase in e-scooter use may pose for pedestrians with disabilities; for example, the Royal National Institute of Blind People highlights:
Micromobility vehicles such as e-scooters are extremely difficult for blind and partially sighted people to see, and operate quietly which also makes them difficult to hear. It may not always be obvious to someone using a micromobility vehicle that they are approaching a pedestrian with sight loss. The difficulties in these two groups detecting one another make interactions between the two potentially dangerous.
Concerns have also been raised that the batteries in e-scooters have been linked to fires. In 2021, London’s fire brigade was called to 130 fires related to lithium-ion batteries, 28 of which have been directly linked to e-scooters. A spokesperson for the fire brigade said:
Many of the fires we are seeing involve batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards. We know that lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used.
Parliament’s own fire risk management team requires that e-bikes, e-scooters and any detachable battery packs are not brought into parliamentary buildings, but remain stored in racks outside due to potential fire risk.
3. Planned legislation
The transport secretary told the House of Commons Transport Committee on 27 April 2022 that the government planned to introduce legislation to allow the government to regulate e-scooters in the 2022–23 session. The government would then be able to stipulate that all e-scooters sold met certain standards concerning speed, power and lights, among other things. He said the government wanted to “crack down on the private market and make it illegal to sell e-scooters which don’t meet the regulatory standards” the government plans to bring in.
During the committee hearing, Simon Jupp (Conservative MP for East Devon) argued that the use of e-scooters had led to many collisions and “caused problems on the streets of this country”. Mr Shapps said that once the standards for privately owned e-scooters had been set, the government could then decide how e-scooters should be used.
This follows ambitions the government set for the UK to become a global leader in transport innovation in the government’s ‘Future of mobility: Urban strategy’, published in March 2019. As part of this strategy, the government committed to conduct a regulatory review of micromobility in the UK. It said it would also consider testing options to enable future trials of micromobility vehicles to take place. Micromobility refers to the use of small mobility devices, designed to carry one or two people, such as e-scooters.
Speaking for the opposition in a House of Lords debate in January 2022, Lord Rosser said that e-scooters “could have much to offer” as they could provide a “safe, relatively cheap and environmentally friendly method of transport”. He argued, however, that the government needed to ensure that there were “relevant and appropriate regulations in place to address the safety concerns over the use of e-scooters if their general use is to be given the go-ahead”.
Baroness Vere of Norbiton, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Transport, indicated that, “if they are to be legalised, we would consider removing them from the motor vehicle category and instead creating a new bespoke category of vehicles with the appropriate regulatory regime in place”. The government has also said that it is developing technical standards for the construction of e-scooters, which will include an assessment of the merits of protection against cyber threats.
4. Views and reports
In January 2020, the Department for Transport commissioned Kantar’s public division to carry out a nationally representative survey of public attitudes and behaviours in relation to e-scooters. Following 4,046 surveys, Kantar’s January 2021 summary report, ‘Perceptions of current and future e-scooter use in the UK’, stated that nine percent of respondents were likely to buy an e-scooter if they were legalised and prices reduced. Additionally, 15% were reported to be likely to hire an e-scooter in a town or city centre in the UK.
The House of Commons Transport Committee’s September 2020 report on e-scooters recommended legalising the use of private e-scooters on public roads and cycle lanes. This was on the basis that it could be a potentially low-cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to private cars.
However, others have been more cautious. An October 2021 Pacts report on ‘The safety of private e-scooters in the UK’ said it was essential to understand the safety of e-scooters before the legislation is changed. It suggested that the evaluation of the government’s trials of rental e-scooters alone was not enough.
In December 2021, Pacts wrote to the Government offering recommendations on how to safely regulate private e-scooters. This included introducing requirements on maximum speed, design, and rider behaviour, such as mandatory helmet wearing. Ms Harrison responded to Pacts in December 2021 stating that the government would consider the recommendations.
On 22 June 2022, Ms Harrison said that the government was continuing to look at the issue of regulation and would be publishing its evaluation of the e-scooter trials in due course.
Cover image by Creative Christians on Unsplash.