E-Scooters seemed to hit our streets in an overnight phenomenon. Unfortunately, they’ve not been welcomed by all road and pavement users.
No Longer Just A Fad
During the pandemic, they seemed to whizz down our pavements out of nowhere. Most of us thought they probably weren’t here to stay. They seemed like another fad, similar to the ‘hoverboards’ or ‘swegways’ of the early to mid 2010s.
Why do E-Scooters need to be taken more seriously?
Firstly, their role in the future of urban mobility mix is being debated by the Department for Transport. As you may have seen, companies such as Dott, Tier and Lime have installed E-Scooter rental points around England for the purpose of large scale trials. These E-Scooter hire facilities operate in a similar way to the bicycle schemes (or ‘Boris Bikes’) have been doing in London for many a year.
The powers that be in Westminster are under self-imposed pressure to hit their net-zero targets for emissions. They also need to improve dangerously poor air quality in built up areas. Proponents of E-Scooters suggest they can help cut everyday carbon emissions by getting people out of their cars. Their use should reduce congestion in busy cities. However, whilst appearing to be a potential game changer in the area of green urban logistics, several studies suggest the short lifespan of e-scooters and in particular their batteries, means the wider carbon savings may be minimal, if at all.
Secondly, they have been responsible for several deaths and hundreds of accidents.
Just like with ‘hoverboards’, the conversation around E-Scooters is plagued with safety concerns. During the hoverboard’s heyday, celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner publicly endorsed them. Sadly, the excitement ended as quickly as it began.
Around the world, hoverboards started to set on fire and explode. Unfortunately, the devices were responsible for a number of serious injuries and the tragic death of several people, mainly children.
E-Scooter ownership is expected to grow to 1 million by the close of 2021, with a prediction of the vehicles being responsible for a heartbreaking 200,000 accidents. E-Scooters have also been linked to robberies and other crimes, with the lightweight transport a suitable option for those looking to make a quick getaway. Because of this, many see E-Scooters as not only unsafe, but a menace to society.
What Are The Current Laws On E-Scooters?
E-scooters currently sit in a legal limbo. Privately-owned E-Scooters are legal to own and sell. However, they are only permitted to be driven on private land. They are 100% illegal to ride on public roads, cycle lanes or pavements.
Hundreds of electric scooters are being confiscated and impounded by police every week.
There isn’t a specific law for E-Scooters, so they are recognised as ‘powered transporters’ and fall under the same laws as cars and motorbikes. They are subject to MOT, tax and licensing. However, because they don’t have rear red lights, number plates and don’t give riders the ability to signal, they can’t be legally used on roads.
Riders can be fined £300 and given six points on their license if they are caught using them on public roads or pavements. Under the new trials, rented E-Scooters can be driven on roads and cycle lanes – not on the pavement. .
What Are The Rules Around Rented E-Scooters?
Last year, new laws were passed called ‘The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020’.
The legislation outlines that E-Scooters should be limited to a maximum speed of 15.5 mph, and that riders should wear helmets, although it is not mandatory. It reiterates that privately-owned E-scooter will remain illegal. Riders will need a full or provisional driving license and must be aged 16 and over.
Police have put a system of fines and punishments in place for both private and rented E-Scooters. These include the following: riding on pavements (£50 fine), using a mobile phone (£100) and drink driving offences comparable to those given to car drivers (fines, driving bans and imprisonment).
How Much Do E-Scooters Cost To Hire?
E-Scooters roughly cost £3-4 for a 15-20 minute ride. That cost is made up of a £1 unlock fee plus 15p or 16p hire per minute. There will be some variation between providers.
A half-hour journey costs £5 or £6 pounds, the price is not favourable compared to getting the bus or train. For a short journey to the shops, perhaps it makes sense.
For those thinking of using E-Scooters on their morning commute, hiring them regularly is expensive. Therefore, from both a cost and convenience perspective, it makes more sense to buy their own…….other than the fact they’re not legal to ride.
Is The Government Sending Out Dangerously Mixed Signals
Many observers feel that government messaging to the public about E-Scooters is muddled. The police are working to impound and confiscate private vehicles, which sends a message that they are unsafe and unwelcome on our streets. Whilst at the same time, the government is backing the roll out of thousands of E-Scooters around our cities for residents to use.
Even if the trial concludes that E-Scooters are dangerous or inappropriate for some other reason, the experiment will have normalised their presence. It’s hard to see something as worthy of being classed as illegal when it can be used as part of a government scheme. Many E-Scooter owners will probably carry on doing exactly what they like.
How Dangerous Are E-Scooters?
In July, E-Scooters hit the headlines when a three-year-old was seriously injured in an accident involving one in a park in South London. This park, like others in London, had apparently already been subject to the widespread presence of teenagers on E-Scooters. Worried parents are complaining that it has become unsafe for their children to use the playground. There have also been several high profile deaths linked to E-Scooters use. Most notably television presenter Emily Hartridge tragically died on a South London road after an electric scooter crash in July 2019.
Stakeholders in the TFL trial have expressed serious concerns about whether the vehicles are safe. There are also concerns about how E-Scooters will interact with other vehicles, road users and pedestrians. On top of this, there is confusion about how liability should be handled when accidents occur.
The Norfolk Constabulary, The London Metropolitan Police and the Merseyside Police collectively recorded over 400 incidents involving E-Scooters in 2020. Admiral Insurance recently published data relating to 99 incidents involving E-Scooters since July 2020. In May of this year The Times reported that local councils had compiled figures revealing injuries to 210 people involving the government E-Scooter trials. Additionally 122 users were banned from the scheme after breaking the rules.
Speaking on behalf of the Black Taxi Trade, Grant Davis from the London Cab Drivers Club (LCDC) believes that E-scooter riders pose a grave risk to motorists, as well as themselves. He says, ‘The riders of these contraptions often don’t wear anything bright or reflective, so it’s dark and you find a scooter undertaking you with no lights on. No hard hats, No reflective attire and no insurance… I find myself asking just who the hell thought they were a good idea?’
His opinion of TFL’s trials are also not high: ‘the trials undertaken by local Authorities have blurred the lines between a legal scooter hired from a vendor and an illegal scooter which has been purchased by an individual. There have been many reports of accidents and I think it will only get worse.’
E-Scooters Put The Quality-Of-Life and Safety Of Those With Sight Loss In Danger
The use of E-Scooters threatens to seriously affect sight impaired people’s quality-of-life. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has spoken out against the use of high-speed E-Scooters. Advocates are scared that the rise of E-Scooters will force people with sight loss to change their routes or abandon independent travel altogether.
Sarah Gayton, at the National Federation of the Blind, says of E-Scooters, “They are already illegal to use on the public highway and shops must know the majority of their customers are using them on the pavements and roads in the UK….Riders are getting seriously injured and killed on the public highway..If they are legalised you can kiss goodbye to your pavements as they will literally be overrun by them”.
What’s The Way Forward For E-Scooters?
E-Scooters have proved incredibly popular for multiple reasons. They offer an affordable, convenient and potentially environmentally friendly method of urban mobility at a time when we’re desperate to reduce the number of fossil fuelled vehicles on our roads. They’ve bolted (or should that be vaulted) and we’re going to struggle to get them back in their boxes.
We would never undermine the concerns of vulnerable pedestrians. We also totally understand the worries of the black cab trade as well as other motorists when it comes to E-Scooter safety. However, they can’t wind back the clock, so the government needs to act faster and implement measures to improve the level of safety around E-Scooter usage.
In our mind regulation of E-Scooters should follow the path that e-cycling has been directed along. Roger Geffen, policy director, of campaigning organisation Cycling UK, raised concerns over a year ago regarding the hastily implement E-Scooter trials. He recommended to the DfT that E-Scooters should be, “Regulated in accordance with the “precautionary principle”, ie, adopting a cautious approach to determining their maximum speed, maximum power output, maximum weight and indeed their maximum acceleration.” Putting in place cautious measures would allow for loosening in the future if E-Scooters turn out to be reasonably unproblematic and safe. Geffen points to the example of E-bikes which have been successfully legalised subject to power, weight and other limits without the need for them or their users to be licensed or insured.
Tom McMorrin, Cycling Insurance Product Manager for our sister brand Yellow Jersey highlights that, “Nationwide we’re investing heavily in segregated cycle ways which scooters could also use; the ones already in place are fantastic. The more we enable safer travel on two wheels around town, the more people cycle or scoot, the less people will rely on cars, the better the air gets and fewer road deaths there will be. Road maintenance too will become cheaper due to less potholes.”
Legalising privately owned E-Scooters whilst banning them from pavements and parks would reassure concerned pedestrians. Stipulating that they can only be used on roads and cycle lanes would clearly sign post what constitutes responsible usage. E-Scooter riders would be subject to the Highway Code and accountability would be placed on the individual rider for their own safety as well as the safety of others.
The “micro-mobility” revolution can be a force for good. But only if the roll out of key elements such as E-Scooters are handled with due consideration and the required dexterity. Otherwise their integration with existing infrastructure and road useers will be at best messy and sadly as we’ve seen already, at its worst, it will be highly dangerous.