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Is it Legal to Ride an Electric Scooter in the UK?

Owning and riding an electric scooter in the UK is perfectly legal, as long as you stay on private land and have the permission of the landowner. Riding escooters on public roads, cycle lanes or pavements is illegal – but that could all be about to change.

The Current Legal Position

As electric scooters are powered partly by a battery motor, they are currently classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs) and covered by the 1988 Road Traffic Act as ‘motor vehicles’. This requires them to be taxed and licensed with a valid MOT certificate in order to be allowed on the road, and they must also meet the same legal requirements as cars, including having number plates and signalling ability. Obviously, that’s not possible, meaning it is not currently legal to ride your scooter on public roads.
And while the Road Traffic Act prevents them from using the roads, the 1835 Highways Act prohibits a ‘carriage of any description’ from using the pavement (except to park).

So where does this leave electric scooters – in the cycle lane? Unfortunately not. While electric bikes have been granted the right to use cycle lanes as long as they have a limited speed and motor rating, their inclusion in the cycle lane is dependent on them also having pedals – ruling electric scooters out once again.

Clearly, the pre-existing UK laws governing escooter use are confusing and outdated, and by blurring the long standing definition of a ‘vehicle’, electric scooters are omitted from every current legal category, so they have no right to use the roads, pavements or cycle paths in the UK.

As electric scooters are already in widespread use across our towns and cities, manufacturers, riders and environmental campaigners have been putting pressure on the government to review the legal position – and it’s working.

The Future of Transport

The Department for Transport has made an open commitment to encouraging innovation in transport in order to help meet its other goals of reduced congestion and emissions.

As part of this new transport revolution, in March 2020 the Department for Transport launched the ‘Future of Transport Regulatory Review’, in which it acknowledged the need to “address areas of regulation that are outdated, a barrier to innovation, or not designed with new technologies and business models in mind.”

This broad and sweeping review of transport laws is an important and positive step towards the legalisation of electric scooters on UK roads.

The Call for Evidence goes on to state, “We want transport to be cleaner, safer, healthier, greener, cheaper, more convenient, and more inclusive. As regulators, we will judge every innovation on whether it serves those ends, or undermines them.”

That’s great news for electric scooters, which offer a convenient, affordable and emission-free travel solution, encouraging drivers away from their cars and thereby helping to clear roads and reduce pollution. Escooters also support the government’s aim to encourage the use of public transport, as they are ideal for ‘first mile and last mile’ transportation to and from terminals.

This public consultation is a timely first step towards legalising the road use of escooters in the UK.

Electric Scooter Road Trials

An important part of the Department for Transport’s investigation into the legalisation of escooters on UK roads will be testing and assessment.

In order to do this, £90 million has been invested in the creation of four initial ‘Future Transport Zones’ located in Portsmouth & Southampton, West of England Combined Authority (WECA), Derby & Nottingham and West Midlands. These zones will be used to trial emerging travel technologies and transport innovations including electric scooters, delivery drones and self-driving cars.  

The main focus of the trials will be to consider any restrictions that should apply to these new technologies for them to operate safely alongside traditional vehicles on the UK streets. These trials are imminent, though the old legislation must be changed before the pilot schemes can begin. That process can take several months, so current estimates are that trials are scheduled to start in late 2020.

In the meantime, an unofficial UK trial has been taking place at the have been available for the public to hire since November 2018, which is possible (and legal) because the Olympic Park is technically privately owned property. The trial was initially due to run for a couple of months but has been extended twice, allowing tens of thousands of people the chance to travel by escooter and suggesting that the pilot scheme has been a popular success.

Likely Outcomes

The Department for Transport consultation is expected to approve legalisation of electric scooters for use in public spaces, but the Call for Reponses document is clearly focused on maintaining the safety of other road users, making it likely that a range of regulations will be applied along with their decision.

Current trials will assess the rules that could apply to both riders and manufacturers to ensure safety on the UK roads. Suggested restrictions include licensing, speed limits in built up areas, riders meeting a minimum age limit and wearing a helmet, and manufacturers fitting speed inhibitors to electric scooters to cap the maximum speed, probably at around 15.5mph.

The most likely outcome is that electric scooters will be placed in the same legal category as electric bikes, which are allowed to use the public roads and cycle lanes. Ebikes are required to have working front and rear brakes, lights and reflectors when used at night and motors rated 250W or lower. Grouping electric scooters with ebikes for use on roads and cycle paths is a sensible outcome as the cyclists reach similar speeds to escooters. At the same time, the average speed of a car in central London is now only 6-7mph.

Regulations in Other Countries

It’s clear that the UK is currently lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to micromobility regulation. Electric scooters are extremely popular across Europe, with rental apps such as Lime, Jump and Bird operating hubs for hiring electric scooters successfully – and entirely legally – in a number of European cities. Similar schemes are currently unable to operate in the UK, which is another reason that increasing pressure is being mounted on the government to update their legislation.

At the present time, only 3 countries in Europe have yet to legalise the use of electric scooters in public spaces: Holland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Many other countries positively support the use of electric scooters as an eco-friendly transport method, particularly in urban environments.

In France, it is legal to ride an escooter in a cycle lane or on the pavement as long as the rider follows set speed limits, though hefty fines are handed out for riding on the pavement or parking a scooter inconsiderately in busy areas. Germany recently updated the relevant legislation to allow riders aged over 14 and wearing a helmet to ride on cycle paths, or roads where no cycle path is available. Escooters are hugely popular in Italy with both residents and tourists who use them on public roads for sightseeing. And in Austria and Switzerland electric scooters can legally use cycle lanes and roads at speeds of up to 25kph.

Risk Assessment

The safety of electric scooters on UK roads was placed under the spotlight in July 2019 following a fatal accident involving an escooter rider, television presenter Emily Hartridge, who collided with a lorry at a roundabout. An investigation established that a cyclist had been killed a year earlier at the same spot which was reported to have a confusing new road layout, and while some commentators called for enforcement of the ban on electric scooters, others pushed for improved regulation to improve safety for all road users.
Electric scooter accident
The International Transport Forum (ITF) published a report in February 2020 entitled ‘Safe Micromobility’, which compared the safety of electric scooters with other vehicles. The report includes electric scooters in its definition of ‘Type A micro-vehicle’ due to their low weight and top speed of less than 15.5mph, and states,

“A trip by car or by motorcycle in a dense urban area is much more likely to result in the death of a road user – this includes pedestrians – than a trip by a Type A micro-vehicle. A modal shift from motor vehicles towards Type A micro-vehicles can thus make a city safer.”

The report goes on to state that a road fatality is not significantly more likely when using an escooter rather than a bicycle, and the risk of an emergency department visit for an escooter rider is similar to that for cyclists.

Among the 10 recommendations the ITF makes, the report suggests that street layouts could be altered to make urban traffic with micromobility vehicles safer, along with suggestions for safer vehicle design and operation.

The Time is Right

The growing trend for electric scooters as a fun, efficient and environmentally friendly way to get around our towns and cities has forced the government to begin the process of legalisation. The outdated pre-existing transport legislation is no longer fit for purpose in an age of evolving technology, and the UK – once a world innovator – was beginning to be left behind in this emerging field. The Department for Transport’s Future of Transport Regulatory Review is a positive first step towards the UK’s micromobility laws catching up with the rest of the world. Electric scooters are an ideal solution to achieving a number of the government’s transport revolution goals, including finding greener, cleaner, more affordable and accessible modes of travel. Supporting a move towards public transport by providing ‘first and last mile’ travel, escooters are easy to use and an ideal mode of transport for anyone less physically able or suffering mobility issues to get around busy urban areas. Once riding an escooter becomes legal on the UK’s streets, uptake is almost certain to increase which will bring with it a range of benefits, including getting cars off the roads and reducing urban air pollution. As the government supported the introduction of cleaner electric cars with convenient charging points in city centre parking spaces, could we possibly see the same for scooter parks?

Here’s a video that summarises the subject “are escooter legal?”

Regulation of electric scooters will encourage safe and responsible electric scooter usage. Until the legal position is clarified, there is no way to enforce minimum safety requirements and expected riding standards, so the sooner the government updates the current legislation to make escooters legal on public roads, the better for everyone.

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