The government recently announced that it plans to legalise e-scooters as part of a new Transport Bill. The new legislation is expected to create a completely new category of vehicle called ‘powered personal transporters’, which will cover ‘smaller, lighter, zero-emission vehicles’ such as e-scooters. Detailed regulations will be brought in to improve safety and crack down on the illegal use of e-scooters.
The government has welcomed e-scooters as a cheaper and greener form of transport. However, road safety organisations and injured and vulnerable people’s charities are concerned about the impact of e-scooters on riders’, pedestrians’ and other road users’ safety.
Regulatory and safety concerns from e-scooters
Many people who buy an e-scooter are not aware that it is illegal, currently, to use an e-scooter on UK roads and public spaces. The only exception is for e-scooters rented and properly ridden in accordance with an approved trial e-scooter rental scheme. Rental e-scooter trials were due to end earlier this year but the Department for Transport has extended the trials until November 2022.
Private e-scooters are not recognised as a separate category from any other motor vehicle. The law allows private e-scooters to be sold and bought but, under their current official classification as motorised vehicles without a correct licence, insurance or road tax, they cannot be used on public roads or in public spaces. Rental e-scooters are insured by the rental scheme, but motor insurance is not available for private e-scooters, so they can only legally be used on private land with the land-owner’s permission. As they are not intended for use on the roads, e-scooters are not registered and their design, sale and use is unregulated.
Riding a private e-scooter on public roads, pavements and other public spaces is the same as driving a car or motorbike in these places without a licence, with no insurance and no road tax. The rider is breaking the law and if caught may have their e-scooter seized, as well as receiving fines and penalty points for traffic offences, such as speeding or ignoring traffic signals, and driving bans or imprisonment for more serious drink-driving offences. If an e-scooter rider injures somebody in an accident, the police investigate the incident in the same way as they would for any other motor accident.
E-scooters are sometimes compared to bicycles, but these comparisons do not always take into account the unique factors which increase the safety risks from e-scooters.
Risk factors relating to e-scooter riders:
- e-scooter riders are a new category of vulnerable road users, on faster, more powerful vehicles;
- e-scooter riders are using a motorised vehicle with no previous training or experience;
- younger e-scooter riders may start using an e-scooter without ever having driven on the road before;
- e-scooter riders don’t have to pass a ‘driving test’ to prove their competence, (unlike motorcyclists or car drivers);
- e-scooters are often sold without information and warnings about how they should safely and legally be used.
Risks from e-scooter rider behaviour:
- riding a motorised vehicle on the pavement around pedestrians;
- riding a motorised vehicle in parks and public places around children;
- speeding – most legal rental scheme e-scooters have a speed limit of around 12.5mph;
- despite their vulnerability, failing to wear helmets or other protective clothing;
- failing to wear high visibility clothing to be seen by others;
- weaving through traffic;
- wearing headphones/earphones;
- using mobile phones whilst riding.
Risk factors relating to the e-scooter’s design:
- some e-scooters can weigh more than 40kg (compared with 8–10 kg for a bike), making them harder to control and increasing their impact in a collision;
- e-scooters can be unstable, particularly when accelerating or braking;
- in a collision, riders are thrown forwards over the top of the e-scooter, with an increased risk of head/facial injury;
- e-scooters’ small wheels leave them vulnerable to potholes and other road defects;
- private e-scooters can be made, or modified, to achieve speeds of up to 50mph, increasing injury in a collision;
- e-scooters often do not have indicators, and taking one hand off the handle-bar to signal reduces the rider’s control and increases risk of injury;
- e-scooters may not have ways of giving an audible warning, such as a bell.
Accountability and compensation for injuries:
- private e-scooters are not controlled (in relation to design, speed, location, buyer) as rental e-scooters are;
- they have no registration plate for identification;
- their riders do not have valid motor insurance to ensure that others who are harmed as a result of their negligence can be properly compensated.
Calls for e-scooter regulation and compulsory motor insurance
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) has called for safety to be prioritised in any new legislation relating to e-scooters. This followed PACTS’ own research into the extent of e-scooter accidents and injuries, which found that in 2021:
In addition, PACTS found that 70% of these accidents involved private e-scooters. Nearly a quarter of the injuries occurred in single-vehicle e-scooter accidents, with no other road user or moving vehicle involved.
PACTS has emphasised that when private e-scooters are legalised, the existing regulations (for rental e-scooters) cannot simply be applied to private e-scooters, which are used and constructed very differently. PACTS has recommended that any regulations relating to the construction and use of private e-scooters should include the following:
- maximum possible speed of 12.5mph (20km/h);
- maximum continuous rated motor power of 250 W;
- tampering should be prohibited and anti-tampering mechanisms built into the e-scooters;
- minimum wheel sizes of 12 inches (30.5cm) for the front wheel and 10 inches (25.5cm) for the back wheel;
- two independently controlled brakes, one acting on each wheel;
- mandatory lighting at all times;
- maximum unladen weight of 20kg;
- mandatory audible warning device;
- mandatory helmet wear;
- riding on the pavement or footpath to be prohibited;
- rider minimum age of 16 years;
- carrying passengers prohibited;
- drink driving, dangerous or careless riding prohibited;
- using a handheld mobile phone whilst riding prohibited;
- in-person rider training is recommended;
- third-party insurance is recommended.
The Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), which provides limited compensation for the injured victims of uninsured and untraced drivers, has previously called for any new legislation which legalises e-scooters to make it compulsory for e-scooter riders to have third party motor insurance.
“The MIB believes there are potentially catastrophic consequences for legalising e-scooters beyond these trials without the requirement for some form of compulsory insurance. There is a high risk of accidents – presenting a dangerous threat to the safety and security of pedestrians, children and other innocent road users. This increases the likelihood of victims enduring life-threatening and life changing consequences with no hope of compensation for the victims. This also poses a major risk to e-scooter users without insurance, who could be forced to pay out thousands of pounds in liability if they have an accident.”
Compensation for serious injury after e-scooter accidents
Boyes Turner’s personal injury specialists welcome the valuable work carried out by PACTS to highlight the rising number serious injuries from accidents involving e-scooters. Inexperienced, untrained and irresponsible riders of these potentially harmful motorised vehicles are at risk of injury to themselves, but also risk their negligence causing life-changing injuries to others. Where an e-scooter rider is injured as a result of another road user’s mistake, we can help their recovery by obtaining rehabilitation and compensation from the other driver’s insurers. Whilst the MIB provides welcome but limited compensation for those injured by uninsured riders, we believe that all e-scooters should have mandatory insurance so that victims of e-scooter negligence can also benefit from full compensation.
If you have suffered a serious injury in a road traffic or e-scooter accident, contact us here to talk to one of our experienced solicitors, free and confidentially, to find out more about rehabilitation or making a claim.