On 20 January 2022, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:

Baroness Neville-Rolfe to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for further regulating the use of e-scooters given the safety concerns about their use.

What are the safety concerns of e-scooters?

Concerns about the safety of electric scooters (e-scooters) have been widely reported in the media in recent years.

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.

On 25 November 2021, the Department for Transport published figures that showed trends in e-scooter collisions and casualties in Great Britain for the year ending June 2021. This data is provisional only and is not a complete data set, nor does it distinguish between privately owned and rental e-scooters:

  • There were 882 accidents involving e-scooters. Of these, 173 were single vehicle accidents.
  • There were 931 casualties in accidents involving e-scooters. Of these, 732 were e-scooter users.
  • Of the 931 casualties, 3 were fatalities (all of them were e-scooter riders).
  • The Government estimated that there were 253 seriously injured and 675 slightly injured casualties.

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 during 2021 there were almost 300 recorded injury-collisions involving private e-scooters. The data also does not include near-misses and collisions in which no injuries were sustained.

How are e-scooters regulated?

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.

E-scooters are considered a type of ‘powered transporter’ for the purposes of UK law. Government guidance describes powered transporters as vehicles that are mechanically propelled by a motor, as well as or instead of being manually propelled.

E-scooters are covered by the same laws that apply to motor vehicles. This means that there are legal restrictions on where they can be used. For example, it is a criminal offence to use them on:

  • pavements, footpaths and other pedestrian-only areas;
  • cycle lanes, bridleways, and restricted byways; and
  • certain car parks, public squares, and industrial estates.

Anyone found committing these offences could be prosecuted and receive a penalty ranging from a fine to imprisonment. The UK law that applies these criminal offences are the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Highway Act 1835.

Does the Government plan to change the law?

The Government is currently considering the possibility of legalising e-scooters on UK roads. This follows ambitions it 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.

Following a public consultation on legalising trials for rental e-scooters, the Government announced in May 2020 that legislation would be introduced to allow trials of rental e-scooters to begin.

What are the rental e-scooter trials?

The Government is currently running rental e-scooter trials in certain parts of the UK. The trials do not apply to e-scooters that are privately owned.

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 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.

As at the end of October 2021, the Government said there were 22,644 rental e-scooters available across all trial areas.

The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (the instrument) came into force on 4 July 2020 and amended UK law to enable the rental e-scooter trials to take place.

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.

More information on the instrument can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing ‘Covid-19 regulations: electric scooter trials’ (25 September 2020).

How are trial outcomes being measured?

The Government established a national monitoring and evaluation programme to help it assess the outcome of the trials.

In a letter from the Government to the chair of the 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 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.

The Government said an interim evaluation report would be published in autumn 2021. However, on 13 January 2022 the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Trudy Harrison, confirmed that an interim report would be published “shortly”, with the final report published in spring 2022.

Is there appetite for changing the law?

Views on whether the Government should legalise the use of e-scooters on public roads varies amongst parliamentarians, industry and the general public.

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.

In a report by the think tank Centre for London on 23 September 2021, it also expressed support for the legalisation of private e-scooters alongside rental schemes.

However, others have been more cautious. An October 2021 Pacts report on ‘The Safety of Private E-scooters in the UK: Interim Report’ 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. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport responded to Pacts in December 2021 stating that the Government would consider the recommendations.

The Government is awaiting the outcome of the trials before determining whether the law should be changed.

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Photo by Okai Vehicles on Unsplash.