E-scooters are a hot topic at the moment and either, depending on your viewpoint, a fantastic solution to transport issues or a terrible blight on society.
What is an e-scooter
An e-scooter is usually an electric powered vehicle, classified as a ‘powered transporter’. They come in all shapes and sizes and have wildly varying designs. Their top speeds and range can vary greatly.
The Government has launched extensive trial areas throughout the country – E-scooter trials: guidance for users – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). In the trial areas there is a mandatory top speed of 15.5 mph but many scooters are restricted to a lower figure than this.
Many advocates of e-scooters laud them as a cheap form of transport that runs on electric. If that electricity comes from renewables, aside from the manufacturing process, this is a completely green, emission free form of transportation.
They are relatively cheap and therefore accessible to many and there is no need for any expensive installation of chargers as they are usually charged with a 240v charger that can be used in the home.
They are therefore a potentially cheap, accessible and green transport solution.
The potential drawbacks
They are seen as being dangerous. Many of e-scooters can travel at high speed and are used both on roads and often on pathways by users.
Anecdotally there is evidence of them being linked to crimes. Whilst this is clearly not all users, there have been multiple incidents and famous media reports of their links with drug crime, antisocial behaviour and even drive by shootings.
To many these scooters are a nuisance and pose a danger to both their users and pedestrians. Many do not contain any lights and are often black making them difficult to see at night.
Many people believe that they are not subject to any restrictions and so, if you can buy one, you can ride one (many children are seen riding e-scooters regularly).
There is no specific requirement to wear any safety equipment (helmet or otherwise).
Finally, many riders of e-scooters have models which do not meet the same requirements as the trial areas with significantly increased top speeds, which further increases the risks to riders and pedestrians.
What the statistics say
Despite what people may think e-scooters do pose a danger. Statistics released by PACTS highlighted that over 900 people were killed or injured in collisions with an e-scooter in the year 2021 in the UK. Of these casualties nearly 40% were seriously injured and 12 people died. In 69% of cases it was the rider of the e-scooter who was injured but over a quarter (27%) were other road users (mainly cyclists and pedestrians). Interestingly 23% of the injuries occurred in single vehicle collisions (i.e. no other vehicle involved).
The report can be found here – The safety of private e-scooters in the UK – PACTS research – PACTS
The legal status
An electric scooter is classed as a motor vehicle. It is a powered transporter. It requires a category Q entitlement on a driving licence to be able to ride one. This is included in the UK full and provisional licences covering categories AM, A or B, so if you have one of these licences you can use an e-scooter. With a provisional licence you do not need to display L plates.
In trial areas, they are maintained and insured and can be used on roads and cycle lanes unless specifically prohibited.
Outside of a trial area, they cannot be used on public roads without complying with a whole host of legal requirements and they cannot be used in any spaces set aside for the use of pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders etc., (such as footpaths, bridleways, cycle lanes, etc.). this makes them effectively illegal for use in public spaces outside of trial areas
They can be used on private land with the permission of the owner/occupier.
There are various cases which have gone before the courts which set out the status of the ‘powered transporter’ as a motor vehicle and thus all of the usual requirements apply, such as the licence, the insurance and the good working order all apply. There have been cases of individuals being charged with driving under the influence whilst using an e-scooter.
The Government guidance is set out at the following link Powered transporters – GOV.UK.
As will be seen, if there is an e-scooter being used in a public place, outside of a trial area, this is likely to be an illegal use of an e-scooter.
This then raises the question of Ex Turpi Causa (the criminality defence) which is likely to be raised as a defence in such cases.
In addition, it is likely that many e-scooter riders will not wear a helmet which could give rise to contributory negligence arguments as per cyclists in the case of Smith -v- Finch  EWHC 53(QB).
My final thoughts
Presently they are only legal on private land or used in the trial areas.
The legislation is well behind the curve. Barely a day goes by where I do not see an e-scooter and very often they are ridden by children. The Government has indicated an intention to legislate on the matter but no details have yet been released
The e-scooter revolution represents a great opportunity as the green transport of the future, but it does not fit well within the current framework of laws and the current restrictions on usage are so significant, it appears that they are all but ignored.
It is necessary for the legislation to move to have clear guidance in relation to e-scooters. The present legislation considers the vehicles a class apart but then treats them like motor cars which is unsatisfactory and such vehicles need to be given full and due consideration to include the age of riders, the mandatory requirements of any safety gear and the insurance and technical requirements.
Much of the research and recommendations have been given in the PACTS report above, so it is now a case of getting legislation drafted passed through Parliament.
This will give more certainty to consumers and hopefully drive safer usage of these vehicles whilst at the same time, giving more surety to me and my colleagues when dealing with claims by removing barriers such as the criminality defence mentioned above.
Darren Wilson, author of E-scooters – the way forward?’, is Team Leader & Senior Associate at Irwin Mitchell.
You can find out more about Darren here.