Personal Injury

E-scooter London Trial To Launch Despite Safety Concerns

Estimated read time: 4 mins

Carrie Tennick, March 16, 2021

The demand for e-scooters is expected to rise as London prepares to introduce a rental trial in 11 boroughs in May.

But questions remain over the safety and legality of these so-called ‘powered transporters’.

Private use of e-scooters is currently illegal in the UK. You can buy one, but you can't ride it on the roads. They are being trialled in rental schemes in a number of areas in England, but any other use is not allowed by law.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) has raised concerns around the “safety disbenefits” of e-scooters. It wrote to transport minister Rachel Maclean about its worry over “the increasing illegal and dangerous use of privately-owned e-scooters”.

PACTS has called on the government to restrict sales, but consumers are able to buy e-scooters from a number of major retailers.

E-scooter trial regulations

The government launched trials of rental e-scooters across England last year, allowing companies to rent out their scooters to users in certain areas. The e-scooters on these trials are limited to 15.5mph, but this could be lower in some trial areas.

To be able to use an e-scooter in a rental trial, you’ll need a Category Q entitlement on your driving licence, which is present on full and provisional UK licences for mopeds, motorcycles and cars. You can’t use an e-scooter if you have a provisional licence or learner’s permit from abroad.

E-scooters must also be insured, but the rental company will arrange this.

They can be ridden on roads – but not motorways – and in cycle lanes. You’re not allowed to use an e-scooter on the pavement, in the same way cycling on the pavement is not permitted.

Are electric scooters legal?

According to the government, there are few scenarios where you would legally be able to use an e-scooter privately. In fact, the only time you are allowed to ride an e-scooter is “on private land with the permission of the land owner”.

E-scooters, which the government considers motor vehicles, are not legal outside of the rental trials. The government has also said that anyone using a private transporter, including an e-scooter, on “a public road or other prohibited space in breach of the law is committing a criminal offence and can be prosecuted”.

These powered transporters also include Segways, hoverboards and powered unicycles. Since there is no specific law governing e-scooters, they are covered by the same laws and regulations applying to all motor vehicles.

The government explained: “The potential penalties depending on the nature and gravity of the offence, and sentences range from fines and penalty points to disqualification from driving.

“Those who use powered transporters dangerously or under the influence of drink or drugs can also be convicted of offences leading to imprisonment. Offences related to the standard of driving and speeding also apply.”

It has also said that for motor vehicles to legally use public roads, they need to meet a number of requirements just like other motorists, including:

  • Adhering to standards of use
  • Driver testing and licensing
  • Having the right insurance
  • Licensing and registration
  • Paying vehicle tax
  • Using the relevant safety equipment

There has been a legal case where a rider was convicted of riding an e-scooter without insurance. Another case found that a rider was required by law to have a driving licence and third-party insurance when using an e-scooter on the road.

According to the government, e-scooter riders “will find it very difficult to comply with all of these requirements,” making it illegal to use them on the roads.

Meanwhile, PACT has said that allowing rental trials to go ahead will lead to people taking it as a “green light” that they can buy and use their own on public roads. The organisation said many e-scooters owners won’t realise or may ignore the law around these vehicles.

E-scooter safety

PACT has labelled e-scooters “a hazard for pedestrians”. It said that e-scooters are often used on pavements, despite it being illegal, and that people will continue to do so – for convenience or their own safety.

When setting out its position on e-scooters, PACT said they will put some people off walking, particularly those more vulnerable, including elderly and partially sighted people. It also explained that collisions between riders and pedestrians do happen, but many won’t be reported.

According to PACT, e-scooters have a number of unsafe features, including:

  • Instability

On an e-scooter, a rider is standing up. This means they would be thrown forward quicker and with more force than a cyclist. Because of this, riders suffer from “much higher” rates of head injury than cyclists.

  • Lighting

Rear lights fitted to e-scooters – and not all have them – are placed just above the wheel, which is just a few inches above the ground. This makes it difficult to see them.

  • Visibility

PACT said it difficult for riders to see vehicles approaching from behind or to give signals as they don’t have mirrors or indicators to rely on.

  • Wheel size

E-scooter wheels are usually between 8-10 inches, making it difficult for riders to safely negotiate potholes and uneven road surfaces. The small wheels also result in very responsive – or ‘twitchy’ – steering.

In 2019, the Metropolitan Police recorded 32 collisions involving e-scooter riders, including one fatality. A rider lost control of her e-scooter and was thrown under a lorry after it got a flat tyre.

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