/ Travel & Leisure

E-scooters: why are people ignoring the law?

Electric scooters are an increasingly common sight on city streets, but are they a good idea? And why are so many people ignoring the law around their use?

There I was, walking along the pavement to my local station when suddenly I was broadsided by something moving at speed.

As I looked to see what had hit me, a woman in front of me staggered and nearly lost her balance as she was clipped by the same person on an electric scooter who ignored both of our shouts of rage as she sailed off along the pavement. 

Fortunately, neither of us were hurt, though we were both pretty annoyed. But other people have been injured, and even killed: YouTuber Emily Hartridge lost her life in July after a crash involving her e-scooter and a lorry in southwest London.

Just a few days later, a teenager suffered a serious head injury after an accident on an e-scooter.

If you’ve spent any time in a major city around the globe recently, you’ve probably seen people whizzing along on electric scooters, but they haven’t been welcome everywhere.

Are e-scooters legal in the UK?

Here in Britain, e-scooters are banned on both the roads and the pavements. This is because they’re classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs), or ‘Powered Transporters‘.

So why are we seeing them? And are users being told about the legal position? 

Looking on websites of shops that sell e-scooters, most – but not all – do flag up that it’s illegal to ride them on the pavements and roads, although the warnings are sometimes placed at the bottom of the page and/or buried in text. 

Christian Payne told me via Twitter that when he bought his scooter, he was told very clearly what the legal position is:

He went on to make his own video that explained the law to others. So is the law being enforced?

A friend whose elderly father bought himself an e-scooter told me that he had chatted to several police officers while he was out and about on it and, not only did they not reprimand him for breaking the law, they told him that they didn’t have time for that sort of thing.

Are e-scooters sustainable?

There are also concerns about how environmentally-friendly they are. The ‘dockless’ rental schemes, where you can leave the scooter or bike anywhere you like rather than returning them to docking station, have sparked complaints as users carelessly leave them blocking pavements.

Meanwhile, the jury is out on their sustainability. While many argue that they’re much better than cars, others say that their short lifespan of just a few months and problems with how they’re disposed of undermine those advantages.

As you can probably tell, I’m not keen on them and won’t be buying one for myself any time soon, but it’s clear they are potentially useful for people with limited mobility. 

My view is that we need to get the infrastructure right so that we can use them safely and legally, and that we also need to make sure that they don’t develop faults or fall apart within a few months.

But what do you think? Are they an innovation we should embrace, or should they be banned? How could they be made safe and become a useful addition to our transport options? 

Comments

I have a love/hate view of cycling. Having walked many miles along canal towpaths over the years I’ve seen many responsible cyclists but also a few who race or otherwise create havoc for other users. Of course the benefits of cyclists include the saving of resources, cutting down pollution and improving the health of users.

In her introduction, Kate says: “My view is that we need to get the infrastructure right so that we can use them safely and legally, and that we also need to make sure that they don’t develop faults or fall apart within a few months.” That makes sense and maybe the same approach will help cyclists.

If we are thinking about sustainability we need to look beyond the needs of motorists.

It seems quite clear that the current law forbids their use on the street. We either change the law or enforce it. There is no point legislating if no one follows the rules. I am surprised that these things don’t have a long user life, and this makes them a wasteful resource unless spare parts can be obtained. As a throw away item, they should be taxed and made to pay for their fragility. I can see the advantage of something that can zip one around with little effort and make commuting easier, but they can not cope with modern traffic on roads and are a danger to pedestrians. They might have a place on cycle tracks. Electric cycles seem to exist reasonably well in the crowded city environment, scooters ought to do the same given the same rules for riding them. It is their wasteful production that tells against them and no one should buy something to discard in less than a year.

Thank you to Kate for addressing this subject, as I too have witnessed a few near misses. There was one outside this building a few weeks ago. Here’s why they’re banned (from the BBC):

“They are subject to all the requirements a motor vehicle is subject to – MOT, tax, licensing and construction requirements – such as having visible rear red lights, number plates and signalling ability. Electric scooters do not have these, so they are not legal for roads”

There’s also been a rise in the number of adults using ‘normal’ scooters (ones without motors) which are also not allowed on the pavements but frequently appear there anyway. They weave in and out of people dangerously quickly and cause a lot of problems – the rider and the pedestrians wearing headphones doesn’t help either.

I’m absolutely all for sustainable and innovative methods of transport in cities and elsewhere but, as Kate says, we must get the infrastructure in place to make it safe first. We can’t have full-grown adults crashing into pedestrians on the pavements.

I’m not sure how we allow electric bikes but not electric scooters if they were subject to the same restrictions – 15.5mph max (above which you’d need tax, insurance, mot). Technically a bike is electrically assisted and a scooter could be – requiring the push from a leg to get it going. I’d also suggest cyclists (some) are a danger to pedestrians as they operate silently and quickly, sometimes also intolerantly.

DerekP says:
19 August 2019

Once upon a time, the UK was a great place for the invention and development of innovative forms of travel. But the story of the Segway – which has never become legal in the UK – shows what a stubborn and backward place we have become. The BMW C1 scooter provided an earlier example of this. Enlightened countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Israel and Spain exempted C1 users from the need to wear crash helmets, but the UK did not follow suit.

From a functional perspective, I think UK law should treat all of these low speed battery EV’s as electrically assisted bicycles. That would allow them on roads and cycleways but not on footpaths. It would also exempt their riders from the need to have 3rd party insurance.

I was looking up to see the legality of the Sinclair C5 and found this:
New government legislation in 1983 opened the way for the C5…………
Legislation
The UK does not currently enjoy the same liberal attitude to low-powered motor vehicles enjoyed by many of its European neighbours. Thus, even the lowest power mopeds require registration, road tax, insurance and a driving licence.

As a result of activity by certain interested parties, and after tests and recommendations from the UK Transport and Road Research Laboratory, a new category of electrically assisted vehicle was legally defined in August 1983. The key features were:

Two or three wheels with pedal propulsion
Maximum weight of 40 or 60 Kg, depending on vehicle configuration
Maximum motor continuously rated output, 200 or 250 Watts, depending on vehicle configuration
Maximum powered speed 15 mph (24 kph)
In addition, this class of vehicle could be driven by any one of 14 years of age and over. It did not require a licence, insurance or road tax. Furthermore no protective helmet had to be worn.

I would suggest it sensible to wear a helmet, as should cyclists.

Now ,I wonder of pedal (pronounced peedal not pedal) would get around the scooter problem as it can be driven by pe(e)dal power?

@gmartin, double line spacing when writing, George. A trivial problem though.

There are a few C5s still around. A friend has one that is in working condition.

Here is an old advert. Keep death off the roads – drive on the pavement. 🙁

Aware of the double spacing issue. Oddly I’m getting it on my work laptop but not on my personal one. Jon and I will continue trying to solve it.

I was thinking about the Segway too. That had a lower top speed than these e-scooters I believe.

Like George, I’m not keen on the idea of such things on the pavement but I suffered a broken collar bone when I was younger, thanks to a cyclist.

Fiona Turner says:
20 August 2019

Having just returned from a trip around the Baltic, the e-scoters were in use in every city we visited. But the cycle lanes are larger there than in the UK so they mix with the cyclists. What I found most dangerous is they are just left lying anywhere, side of the pavement middle of the pavement. In some instances users of wheelchairs could not manoeuvre round them and a passer by helped by lifting them out of the way. A blind person or someone wit reduced sight could injure themselves by tripping over them. If they are allowed in the UK they must use cycle lanes.

Nick says:
25 August 2019

I am fan of electric scooters as in my country they are legal to use and I have used them quite a lot in the past for short distances. I would support the legalisation of their use in UK as well. However, I’d like to comment to your view about the infrastructure that has to be made right first. In recent history, all mobility methods that were created, were firstly made and sold and then the roads were being upgraded through the years. Think past and present about cars and streets/avenues, trains, rails, and train stations, bikes and bike lanes. But still will all of them we still encounter accidents, most rarely with trains though. My point is that the way the whole system works is always supply/demand. The more cars are on the streets the wider avenues are built. World is moving towards a car eco friendly future not only for environmental issues but also because it s not cost effective to rebuilt new roads to support the current car demand and use. So, pragmatically, it is against how the system works to expect infrastructure first for e scooters to be used in an ideal way. Industry is there to sell, and governments react to things afterwards to try and control it in some way – ALWAYS. The only -radical- way to reduce car use and find alternative city personalised transportation methods is to either create a lane for other methods than car (bike, scooter, skateboards, hoverboards (in near future)) made of 3 smallest lanes, a normal speed, a fast speed and emergency lane [ would cost a lot] OR ban cars in cities and transform car lanes to such lanes and invest on building more train/underground metro stations.

Traffic and pedal cycles don’t really mix well these days and for e-scooters it is even more hazardous. Equally cycles and pedestrians don’t mix and e-scooters are somewhere in between but are still impractical on many footways. I do not think e-scooters should be allowed on the carriageways for safety reasons but in some locations it might be possible for them to share dedicated cycle routes or pavements divided between pedestrians and cycles. Because of their smaller wheels they need a much smoother surface to remain stable at all times but there is the advantage that it is easier to stop, partially or fully dismount, and walk with a scooter than with a pedal cycle. I don’t see scooters as any worse than skateboards but because skateboards seem a bit juvenile they have never really caught on for plain movement rather than for showing off whereas e-scooters could be a useful form of travelling to work [if only on a tidal flow basis].

Norman says:
14 September 2019

I would find it surprising if many adults were prepared to look an absolute twerp on a kids toy .

The problem with e-scooters is that they are appearing in areas like pedestrian shopping precincts. The rider taking a straight course at 6mph and shoppers having to jump and drag the kids out of the way , cyclists are bad enough but these are worse. One solution seems to be for those who can legitimately lay claim for the need of a walking aid to raise the end to this and point to the others tender area as the projectile is about 2M away. I have seen this done and the effect was dramatic.

I’m quite attracted to them, but wouldn’t buy one while the situation is so messy – especially if they don’t last long, as that is also a rip-off. A while ago I was considering getting one of those ‘self-balancing wheel’ type of versions, but stopped researching them when it turned out they were not legal (although I regularly see people using them, and sometimes falling off them, on roads near me). I think that as with cycles, mobility ‘scooters’, and anything else that gets you from A to B a bit faster than legs, any problems beyond the user’s personal safety really stem from individuals behaving badly. I’ve been knocked over on pavements by both a cyclist and a mobility scooter user, and the core problem wasn’t whether or not that was legal… it was that you can’t legislate against ‘being a selfish pillock’!

IanS says:
17 October 2019

Have seen them often elsewhere in Europe: usually risen quite safely and responsibly: BUT equally ridden very dangerously (2 on board at something like 30+ mph with no helmets etc and then “dumped” on pavements etc just like the e-bikes in Oxford etc. Personally I’d love one but I’m glad the UK ban is still in place until a sensible and insured/licensed structure is in place…Same for cycles BTW … Some awful riding in towns and country lanes..Mandatory Cycling Proficiency Tests in all schools please AND mandatory bells and insurance…Rant over (for now anyway 😆)