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E-scooters — London calling

Are e-scooters here to 'legally' stay?

E-scooter trials have now reached London with trials commencing on 7 June 2021 in the boroughs of Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond-upon-Thames, Canary Wharf and Tower Hamlets (as a ‘ride through’ borough). This latest expansion of the trials comes amid fears of an increase in personal injury claims involving e-scooters.

The increase in e-scooters, in particular illegal private e-scooter use, on UK roads has raised a number of public safety concerns, for not only the riders themselves but especially in relation to pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. There have been a number of recent media reports of serious injuries sustained by pedestrians who have been involved in collisions with e-scooters. A key issue is visibility in shared spaces given that e-scooters are small and quiet. This is also a concern for motorists who are likely still to be unfamiliar with e-scooters on the roads.

In an attempt to address public safety concerns, the London trials face stricter requirements than other national trials, including a lower speed limit of 12.5mph, a requirement for continuous lighting to be displayed at the front and rear of the scooter throughout the rental period and audible warning systems to alert pedestrians and other road users to their presence. In line with other trials, e-scooters are only permitted on roads and cycle paths. Pavement use is prohibited. Given that many users will be inexperienced having never ridden an e-scooter before, providers in London are also required to have ‘first time policies’ in place, requiring users to take an online safety course prior to renting an e-scooter for the first time.

Whilst it is feared that an increase in e-scooter use, both as part of the rental trials and private use, will lead to an increase in accident frequency, from a claims perspective, accident severity is also a major issue given that helmet use for riders is not mandatory. We are likely to see an increase in claims involving head injuries but may also see novel and potentially complex accident circumstances as e-scooters operate in shared spaces which, in some areas such as London, are already congested.

Whether the additional measures in place in London are sufficient to assuage safety concerns remains to be seen and careful consideration of accident data generated from the trials will be required. Some of the first trials have now been running for almost a year and, whilst it was initially anticipated that trials would only last for 12 months, the Department for Transport has recently extended this period until 31 March 2022. This is to ensure that data captured from the more recent trials, particularly in London, can be taken into account when crucial policy decisions as to potential legalisation and requirements for future e-scooter use are being made.

Whilst access to a greater pool of data is positive, the data, particularly in relation to accidents involving e-scooters will inevitably be limited if it does not include data from all e-scooter-related accidents, including those involving private e-scooters. Indeed, whilst private e-scooters are more likely to be involved in accidents, given that they are not subject to the same safety requirements as e-scooters involved in the trials, such accidents are less likely to be reported as using private e-scooters on roads is currently illegal. Even if reported, the STATS19 data that the police capture does not allow for e-scooter incidents, which will inevitably mean some of the reports are missed. Safety will  be a significant factor in the decision as to whether to legalise all e-scooter use.  If e-scooters are here to stay, an appropriate regulatory regime will be required to ensure that any future legalisation is a success. The challenge will be to ensure that any system is effective, proportionate and meets the needs of the various stakeholders. Watch this space…

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