• Electric scooters are currently illegal to ride in the UK, but this is set to change
  • Trials are due to commence in Nottingham before the end of the month
  • “Adding e-scooters to an underdeveloped infrastructure increases the risk of collision and injury”

The government has announced that electric scooters could be trialled on UK streets as early as the end of this month, but are they a safe mode of transport? Rob Dempsey, personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors, explains how e-scooters could become part of the post pandemic ‘new normal’ world we’re about to emerge into.

Introducing electric scooters has been in the pipeline for a while. However, the fact that this was introduced as part of a coronavirus update suggests that the use of scooters for work and leisure could be a key part of the ‘new normal’.

Currently, e-scooters are illegal to ride on UK pavements and roads – a fact that very few people seem to know about despite being liable for a £300 fixed penalty and six points added to your driving licence if caught.  

However, that is set to change with trials currently taking place to allow electric scooters to be used on pavements and cycle lanes.

Four “future transport zones” were chosen for the trials – including Nottingham and Derby, the West Midlands, Portsmouth and Southampton and the West of England Combined Authority. However, the government is currently debating whether to widen the scope of the scheme across the whole of Great Britain.

It is envisaged that e-scooters will be part of a rental scheme – like in many European cities – as well as private ownership. Whilst this may be a greener form of transport and offer an alternative to crowded public transport – something many people will be looking for post Covid-19 – will it be safe?

The safety of electric scooters was called into question last year when YouTuber and Channel 4 presenter Emily Hartridge was tragically killed whilst riding an e-scooter through London.

E-scooters, with their partial motor, can reach speeds of more than 30mph and are therefore classed as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV) by the Department for Transport (DfT). This means they are subject to all the requirements of a motor vehicle, including MOT, tax and licensing requirements, plus visible rear lights, a number plate, and signalling ability.

This therefore raises several concerns for the rental scheme.

Across cities in Europe scooters are regularly ‘dropped off’ on pavement and cycle lanes, creating trip hazards. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be held liable, if for example a partially sighted pedestrian were to fall over a scooter blocking a public pathway. The Highway Authority is unlikely to be liable as its responsibility focuses on the fabric and condition of the highway and it would be impossible to identify the user.

Additionally, as more people look for alternative modes of transport away from the close confines of public transport, our pavements and cycle lanes are set to become even more congested. Already we have all seen more cyclists, joggers and people walking for exercise. Adding another category of speedy and weighty electric scooters to an underdeveloped infrastructure increases the risk of collision and injury.

The earlier than expected announcement to trial electric scooters has arisen from the extraordinary circumstances we are in. However, without substantial new infrastructure in place, the introduction poses more problems than solutions.

There are concerns about whether the pavements and roads can accommodate an additional category of road user and the Highway Code will also need to be updated. Separate sections currently apply to mobility scooters, cyclists, and motorcyclists, but which is the closest parallel to e-scooters that the courts should turn to when apportioning liability in cases of injury?

I hope that during these trials, solutions for improving the road infrastructure and increased safety of all pedestrians will be taken into consideration before it is rolled out across the country.

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