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E-scooters — a further twist on the winding road

Kathryn Hinchey reviews and comments on the main points arising from the recent report by the Transport Committee on the regulation of e-scooters.

The popularity of e-scooters continues to grow and we are seeing an increasing number of e-scooters on the streets. However, despite this, the use of privately owned e-scooters is currently illegal in the UK with the exception of use on private land.

In March 2020, the Department for Transport began a consultation to consider whether micro-mobility vehicles, such as e-scooters, should be legally permitted on UK roads. In May 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic acting as a catalyst, planned e-scooter rental trials were brought forward in a number of UK cities. These trials are expected to last for 12 months and a decision on the legal status of e-scooters is expected in 2021.

In April 2020, the Transport Committee began an inquiry into the regulation of e-scooters and published a report on 2 October 2020 detailing its findings. Weightmans responded to both the wider consultation and the Transport Committee’s call for evidence. Read the full report of the committee.

The main points arising from the report are as follows:

  • If the use of e-scooters is legalised, there should be no requirement for users to hold a driving licence. The rationale behind this is that such a requirement may prevent what should be a key target demographic from accessing this alternative mode of transport. It is envisaged that this would apply to both rental and privately owned e-scooters, consistent with other countries. It is perhaps surprising that the committee did not recommend some form of compulsory basic training prior to use, particularly given that some users may have little or no experience on the roads.

  • There are mixed views as to whether third party insurance cover should be compulsory for e-scooters. The committee did not reach a definitive view on this issue but appears to be leaning towards there being no requirement for third party insurance. Their view is that e-scooters are more akin to bikes and e-bikes, which do not require insurance. There are also concerns that too many requirements on users will discourage take-up. However, it is recommended that the number and type of collisions occurring during rental trials are monitored in order to inform any future decision as to insurance requirements.

It is notable that, when considering this issue, the committee appears not to have focused on the impact of the lack of insurance on the rider, in particular, the potential financial implications should the rider cause an accident. Another factor that was not considered is the position in the event of an impecunious rider, where the lack of insurance may potentially deny a route to compensation for innocent victims.  

A further and interesting argument in the insurance debate is whether a requirement for insurance may lead to safer riding. This is an important consideration given the recent safety concerns reported during some of the rental trials. Disappointingly, instead of focussing on the valuable benefits of insurance, the committee seems to regard it as a burden that may discourage take-up.

  • The committee is supportive of the proposal that e-scooters should not be permitted on pavements, which is positive. There is a general consensus that this would create a number of hazards for other road users, particularly the elderly and disabled. It is clear, however, that there will need to be stringent regulation and robust enforcement in order to ensure compliance. It may be that technology will play a part in this.
  • The potential for ‘street clutter’ is an important consideration following reports from other European cities of rental scooters being left on pavements creating hazards for pedestrians, particularly those with a visual or mobility impairment. The current UK trials will need to be closely monitored in order to assess whether this becomes an issue and if so, additional regulation may be required prior to a decision being made as to whether to legalise e-scooters.
  • Whilst e-scooters may be more environmentally friendly than other modes of transport, there are some concerns surrounding the lifetime of e-scooters and the methods utilised when charging batteries, which have led some to question their sustainability. However, it is anticipated that these issues will improve as technology develops. Local authorities engaging in rental trials and presumably beyond are encouraged to ensure that rental e-scooter companies operate in an environmentally friendly way and that the environmental impact is closely monitored. It will be interesting to see how this develops as e-scooters become more commonplace.

Comparisons with micro-mobility usage in other countries are often made and it is perhaps surprising that the UK is the last major European economy in which e-scooters are banned except for use on private land. Whilst experiences from other countries can be useful, with potential claims in mind, caution should be exercised given that the UK has higher levels of compensation and legal costs compared to many other European countries.

There are many facets to the debate as to whether e-scooters should be legalised in the UK and the ongoing rental trials in cities across the UK are key to gathering evidence to inform future policy decisions. It is clear that legalising e-scooters in the UK could have widespread and potentially far-reaching implications for many, including other road users, local authorities and insurers.

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