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Written on 5th August 2021 by

 

Introduction

Electric scooters, or e-scooters, are motorised vehicles which tend to use lithium batteries to propel the scooter forward. They have a long history but the types seen today were first introduced to the public in 2009. Offering a more convenient and environmentally greener mode of transportation compared to cars or public transport, e-scooters are quickly seeing a rise in popularity, with almost 16% of people owning one at April 2021. 

However, not all e-scooters are the same and different rules apply depending on which one you own. But despite the popularity and welcomed benefits of e-scooters, there is a growing concern by many that they are unsafe and pose a risk to both motorists and pedestrians.

Private E-Scooters

Private e-scooters can easily be purchased online or on the high street. They are relatively inexpensive when compared to the price of alternative motorised vehicles and can range from 20 mph to almost 80mph.

Despite their unrestricted availability, private e-scooters are not legal to use on public roads or pavements. This may appear confusing to those who own e-scooters as they are perfectly legal to purchase. However, because they are powered by motors they are deemed to be “powered transporters” and therefore, are caught by the same laws and regulations which apply to all other motorised vehicles in the UK.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 classes e-scooters as motorised vehicles and are therefore subject to the same legal requirements as other vehicles, including MOT, tax, licencing and construction. Further, because they do not have number plates, signalling lights or warning lights, the majority of e-scooters cannot legally be used on public roads.

The Highway Act 1835 (as amended) also makes it an offence to ride any motorised vehicle on a public footpath. Taken together, both of these Acts makes it illegal for any person to ride a private e-scooter in public. Those who do may face fines of up to £1,000 and up to 6 points on their driving licence.

Pilot Scheme

In June 2020 the government announced a scheme to allow local authorities to legalise the use of public e-scooters in their areas. These e-scooters are available to the public and are accompanied by the following restrictions:

  • fitted with no motor other than an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W and is not fitted with pedals that are capable of propelling the vehicle
  • designed to carry no more than one person
  • maximum speed not exceeding 15.5 mph
  • 2 wheels, 1 front and 1 rear, aligned along the direction of travel
  • mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55kg
  • means of directional control via the use of handlebars that are mechanically linked to the steered wheel
  • means of controlling the speed via hand controls and a power control that defaults to the ‘off’ position

This scheme was introduced to offer the public a safer way to traverse busy urban areas efficiently, whilst still adhering to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also designed to afford a more environmentally friendly alternative to other modes of transport such as cars or taxis. Various towns and cities across the UK have adopted the pilot, including London, Oxford, Manchester and Birmingham.

The scheme has seen large uptake, with over 2 million journeys having been made since July 2020. Coverage is also increasing, with over 30 cities having adopting the pilot by July 2021, including Newcastle, Bristol and Bournemouth.  

The Cases

Unfortunately, since the introduction of e-scooters there have been many reported accidents, some of which have resulted in fatalities or life-changing injuries.

The first death caused as a result of an e-scooter in the UK occurred in 2019 in London. TV presenter Emily Hartridge was riding her e-scooter in Battersea, south-west London in July 2019 when she collided with a lorry at a roundabout. Reports indicate that the front tyre on Emily’s scooter was deflated and that she lost control after passing over an inspector hatch in the cycle lane. She was thrown under the path of an HGV and sadly, instantly died of the injuries she sustained.

In June 2021, 20-year-old Shakur Pinnock sadly passed away and his 19-year-old girlfriend Chante Hoosang suffered serious injuries following a collision with their e-scooter and a Volkswagen Golf. The couple were both riding a private e-scooter in Wolverhampton when the collision occurred. Shakur suffered from a fractured skull, severed arteries, punctured lungs and a broken jaw. He spent 6 days on a life support machine until sadly passing away in late June. Chante remained in hospital suffering from multiple serious injuries and remained in recovery for weeks after the collision.

In June 2021 a 55-year-old male suffered from critical injuries after he fell off an e-scooter without wearing a helmet. The e-scooter was part of the Newcastle e-scooter pilot scheme and it was not compulsory for him to be wearing a helmet. The man was sent to hospital where it was discovered that he was suffering from a very serious head injury which will leave him with potentially life-changing injuries. 

Early in July this year, France reported the death of a 32-year-old Italian woman near the Seine. She was walking on a pedestrianised area along the Seine when she was hit by two women on e-scooters riding on the pavement. She hit her head on the pavement and suffered a cardiac arrest during the collision. She was comatose and taken to hospital immediately following the collision. Doctors tried to rescue her but she sadly passed away later the same day.

So far 4 people have died due to e-scooter related accidents in the UK and over 100,000 injuries have been reported since 2009. 28 per cent of these injuries are to the head and neck and result in various serious injuries including concussions, brain damage and lacerations. One American study shows that for every 100,000 trips taken on an e-scooter, 20 individuals will end up with an injury and some commentators suggest that e-scooters are 100 times more dangerous than bicycles. After the death of the young woman in Paris, the French government has threatened to ban the use of e-scooters on public roads and pavements.

E-Scooter Safety

Due to the number of collisions involving e-scooters, the UK police have issued a list of protective measures riders can adopt to help prevent causing injury to themselves or to others, these include:

  • Wear a safety helmet, this is not a legal requirement but if you are involved in a collision it may help to avoid serious injury;
  • Only ride them on public roads, not pedestrianised areas or pavements;
  • Do not ride on e-scooters if you are drunk or under the influence of drugs;
  • Ensure the vehicle is safe to use before boarding, check the lights, brakes, tyres, alignment and steering;
  • View the safety demonstration which is available to the public prior to using an e-scooter;
  • Obey traffic regulations as you would do if you were driving a car or motorcycle;
  • Ride with only one person – e-scooters are designed to carry one person only and as some e-scooters can reach weights of 55kg, adding more weight can make it even more difficult to control, leading to collisions;
  • Dock e-scooters in designated bays to avoid other pedestrians tripping and falling over them.

Visually Impaired Pedestrians

One of the greatest concerns in relation to e-scooters is the increased hazard they pose to visually impaired pedestrians. As the government considers the legalisation of e-scooters, The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIBP) have campaigned to the House of Commons Transport Committee highlighting the issues e-scooters pose to blind people. Specifically, they are fast moving, difficult to detect, often ridden on the pavement and left on pedestrianised areas.

To help resolve these issues the RNIBP have campaigned for e-scooters to be fitted with artificial audible warning systems to warn visually impaired people when one is near. They have also asked the government to issue fines to those who park them in places other than designated e-scooter docking bays. E-scooters left on pavements or parked outside shops represent a heightened trip hazard to visually impaired people and have resulted in a range of personal injuries over the past few years.  

These issues not only pose a risk to those with visual disabilities, they also poses a risk to other disabled people, the elderly and people using pushchairs or wheelchairs.

Conclusion

Many people consider e-scooters to be more like regular scooters or bicycles and underestimate the damage they can cause or the injuries they could sustain whilst riding one. Users should approach riding e-scooters in the same way as they would any other motorised vehicle such as a car or motorcycle. Proper attention needs to be paid to the vehicle you’re using as well as other motorists around you and drivers should always abide by the Highway Code to avoid serious injury or at worst – death.

If you have suffered serious injury or the loss of a family member as a result of somebody else’s negligence, you can find out more about making a claim by contacting Boyes Turner’s Personal Injuries Department by email on piclaims@boyesturner.com.