If you’ve recently seen, ridden or encountered e-scooters in public, you’ll know that opinions and feelings about them can be strong and divisive. Whether you love e-scooters or hate them, the Department for Transport (DfT) sees legalised ‘micromobility’ as a clean, cheap and more inclusive and accessible transport option for the future. DfT’s recently published National Evaluation of E-scooter Trials is the latest step in the process towards legalisation of e-scooters. So, the question is no longer if they will be legalised, but when. The trial is intended to gather information on legally rented e-scooters. These are regulated, limited in use by geo-fencing and their riders are properly insured, arguably making them more accountable than illegally ridden private e-scooters. DfT’s evaluation raises the possibility that perceptions of rental scheme e-scooters may have been influenced negatively by the behaviour of private e-scooter users, causing rental e-scooters and their riders mistakenly to be tarred with the same brush. Whether or not that is true, this report gives us an idea of the safety issues that we can expect to see on a larger scale when private e-scooters are legalised and appear in far greater numbers on our roads (and pavements and public spaces). One of the most alarming findings suggests that e-scooter rider casualty rates are three times higher than cyclists, who are already amongst the most vulnerable road users. Given this and other safety concerns raised by the trials, it is critical that DfT’s plans for e-scooters prioritise a full range of measures to keep e-scooter riders safe on the roads, and protect the safety of pedestrians and other road and pavement users. What is the rental e-scooter trial? Since July 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) has been coordinating regulated trials that allow people in some parts of England to rent and legally ride an e-scooter. 32 trials have taken place across 55 areas, delivered by 12 e-scooter operators. The aim of the trial is to inform future policy and changes in the law, which may legalise e-scooters and other micromobility vehicles as a new class of road vehicle. Evidence gathered by the trial may also influence the technical specifications for e-scooters in future. The e-scooter trial was also intended to: provide easy access to safe transport options during the COVID-19 pandemic; improve and increase alternatives to private cars, whilst protecting walking and cycling journeys; provide a safe mode of public transport; improve transport options for deprived communities or areas of social exclusion; increase the availability of low-carbon transport options; increase confidence in e-scooters. Currently, e-scooters rented as part of the trial are the only legal way to use an e-scooter on public roads or spaces. This is because they are subject to the same licensing, registration, insurance and certification laws as cars and other motor vehicles but cannot yet be licensed, registered or insured. This means that if a private e-scooter is used anywhere other than on private land with the landowner’s permission, its use is illegal. E-scooter safety DfT’s evaluation of the rental e-scooters trial was very broad in scope and considered factors such as changes in patterns of road usage and environmental impact, as well as improving social inclusion. Boyes Turner actively supports positive change in all these important areas of society. As specialist personal injury lawyers, acting for individuals and families devastated by injury from road traffic accidents, our comments on this lengthy and detailed report are limited to some key findings in relation to safety. DfT’s report noted that 71% of e-scooter users were male. Nearly three quarters (74%) of all users were under the age of 35. E-scooters were rented and used most frequently by people who were male, young, on low incomes or from ethnic minority groups. 90% of e-scooter journeys took place outside of the 7am to 9am morning rush hour. Female e-scooter users commonly chose to use an e-scooter because they felt it was safer than walking home at night in the dark. E-scooter collisions 5% (one in 20) of rental e-scooter users had experienced at least one collision in the last 12 months. 82% of collisions were single vehicle accidents which did not involve another vehicle or pedestrian. 9% were collisions with cars. Inexperienced riders were more likely to have had a collision on their most recent trip. 38% of collisions involved first-time users, with 72% involving riders who had used an e-scooter fewer than five times. 40% of e-scooter users said their collision was the result of user errors, which included: misjudging the area being ridden, such as the sharpness of a turn or the height of a curb; misuse of the e-scooter by: speeding; riding while intoxicated (drink or drug driving); not paying attention to surroundings; riding too close to other road or pavement users; irresponsible riding, such as doing tricks or “messing around”. Other reasons for collisions included features of the road (30%), such as potholes or slippery road surfaces, or actions by other road users, such as opening car doors. Residents in trial areas who witnessed e-scooter accidents believed they were caused by dangerous or reckless e-scooter riding (35%), weather conditions (34%), road condition (32%) or other road users (22%). Residents who had reported having collisions or near misses with e-scooters had experienced having to swerve to avoid e-scooters undertaking, close-passing or riding along the inside of the lane. These experiences were made worse by poor visibility of e-scooters, especially at night or when they were driving a large vehicle. Blind or partially sighted people who reported collisions or near misses with e-scooters thought they were caused by e-scooter users’ lack of spatial awareness or attention, and misuse. Many residents felt unsafe around e-scooters because of users’ dangerous behaviour, including ignoring traffic lights (77%), riding on pavements (72%), and their speed (67%). E-scooter design E-scooter users had problems with the state or design of the e-scooter, including ineffective brakes, inability to turn off the accelerator, instability whilst taking a hand off the handlebar to indicate while turning, and phones falling out of unsuitable phone holders. Power failure was a common issue, making it more difficult to keep up with traffic when riding uphill, or geo-fencing causing the power to cut out or return suddenly. Injuries from accidents involving e-scooters The rate of casualties (injuries and deaths) from accidents involving e-scooters was estimated to be 13 casualties per million miles. This is around three times higher than the casualty rate for cyclists. DfT suggest that the e-scooter casualty rate may be disproportionately high because e-scooters are new to the roads and a higher proportion of their users are ‘novice’ (new) riders. DfT’s report says that two people have died from accidents involving rental e-scooters. Other serious injuries included concussion, whiplash, internal injuries, burns, severe shock and crushing. Upper limb injuries were more common than injuries to the legs and fee. 63% of e-scooter collisions led to injuries for the riders, of which 47% were limited to cuts and bruises. 70% of those who were injured did not seek medical attention, but 15% attended A&E. However, other studies have suggested that accidents involving e-scooters lead to a significantly higher level of serious injury (whether to riders or others). A Bristol-based evaluation of the impact of e-scooters on Emergency Departments (ED) found that head, upper limbs and lower limbs were commonly injured, with fractures diagnosed in 41% of patients. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) carried out research into accidents and injuries, (including head injuries, fractures and deaths caused by private e-scooters in 2021. You can read more about PACTS’ report in our previous article here. Helmets Helmets reduce the risk of skull and facial fractures for motorcyclists and pedal cyclists who are involved in RTA accidents, however DfT found that helmets were only provided as standard with e-scooters in two of the rental e-scooter trial areas. Where a helmet was provided, it was much more likely to be used by the rider (58% in Newcastle, 36% in York) than in other trial areas (22%) where helmets were not automatically provided with the e-scooter. Users’ reasons for not wearing a helmet on their last journey included not having one available (62%), feeling it wasn’t necessary to wear one (27%), or convenience and comfort (24%). Peer pressure, or a feeling that nobody else was wearing one, was a common reason for rental e-scooter riders choosing not to wear a helmet. Whilst the majority of residents in the trial areas (75%) agreed that the law should require e-scooter riders to wear a helmet, more than half of users (56%) said that wearing a helmet would make them less likely to use an e-scooter. Improving e-scooter safety Other suggestions (from users and residents) to improve the safety of e-scooters on the roads included more cycle lanes, improved road surfaces, licensing, use of high visibility clothing, and changes to e-scooter design to include lights, mirrors, indicators and bells. Regular training and proficiency testing was thought by all to be important, with particular emphasis on turning and handling of the e-scooter, awareness and rules of the road, and in relation to where e-scooters can be ridden. Regulations such as speed limits and rules against pavement riding were regarded by all as important, but also raised concerns about the risk to e-scooter riders on the roads from drivers of faster, larger vehicles. 22% of e-scooter users reported riding on the pavement even though 94% understood that riding on the pavement is illegal. Reasons given for riding on the pavement included traffic or road conditions (87%), convenience (73%), and safety (69%). More than a third (36%) of users thought the age limit for using an e-scooter should be higher than 18 years old, compared with 18 years old (24%), and 16 years old (22%). If you have suffered a serious injury or bereavement in an e-scooter collision or road traffic accident, you may be entitled to compensation. You talk to an experienced solicitor, freely and confidentially, to find out more about making a claim by contacting us here.