/ 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?

28/01/2020: Electric scooters could soon be legal

It looks as though electric scooters could soon be legal to use on Britain’s roads.

According to The Times, the government is planning to launch a consultation as soon as next month on how to regulate e-scooters.

As we discuss below, some have concerns about the safety and sustainability of e-scooters, so it’s good to see the government thinking about how to make sure e-scooters, which are seemingly here to stay, can be used as safely as possible.

The consultation, which transport minister George Freeman said would start “in due course”, is thought to be considering treating them like bicycles and allowing them on roads and cycle lanes, and to considering limiting their speed to 15.5mph.

Does this move change your mind about e-scooters? Let us know in the comments.

19/08/2019: Why are people ignoring the law?

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? 

Matt says:
9 March 2020

The law is utterly stupid and ignores the most vulnerable in society. How about that. Does that satisfy as an answer to the question why are people ignoring the law. For those who are in more rural locations where there are no buses available when people might need them the most, where taxis charge an arm and a leg for travelling a few short miles. People can judge me they want to but without my scooter I would starve. We’ve already lost out local store where we live. We cannot physically get food without a car. If you have a car it’s fine but I personally don’t have a car. I bought my electric scooter during a sale and it’s been an absolute godsend. I travel at around 12mph. That’s it. A slow and steady speed so I can get to a supermarket and get food which would take hours to walk there. I always where a helmet and if there are people I always say sorry and get off and walk. It’s all about commonsense. If people don’t like something then they don’t like something. I’m not a big fan of cars but I accept them polluting the air and being loud don’t I. We all share this world and we just have to get on with it.

It seems that a trial of e-scooters will soon be happening in selected areas, but you will have to hire one: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48106617

Hopefully coronavirus will soon be a memory but if not, an e-scooter seems a more attractive alternative to public transport.

Mr Airey says:
19 June 2020

Electric scooters are made to last for many years if properly maintained. They take up less space than a road bike and can be folded down to a compact size and easily stored at work. Electric cars are better for the environment but do not solve the problem of congestion on busy roads and parking can be a problem. New innovations which help reduce congestion and pollution should be made welcome and provided for. The only problem cities have with e scooters are mainly due to the proliferation of hire/share scooters which are left all over the pavements and not privately owned scooters. So let’s get some rules set up to govern them, that’s not rocket science and move with the times.

Many years ago I used to ride a motorcycle and had various parts stolen and eventually the whole bike. It was in the centre of town. If electric scooters can be folded and stored, that would enable them to be stored safely when working, if employers are helpful.

Codemonkey says:
10 July 2020

I have an e scooter to avoid using public transport during covid, I also wear a helmet and even I was cautioned by police for just having it(turned off) while I was walking with a friend. Law needs to get with the times to stop police abusing it.

From the BBC website:

Middlesbrough e-scooters: Town is first place for trial
Middlesbrough has become the first place in the country to trial e-scooters in a bid to ease pressure on public transport amid the coronavirus crisis.
Fifty rentable electric scooters are available from around the town and can be hired by anyone over the age of 18 with a full or provisional driving licence.
The vehicles, which are banned on pavements, are limited to 11.5mph and cost £2 to hire for 20 minutes.
The pilot, which will run for a year, will be rolled out across all five boroughs of the Tees Valley later this month.
13 Jul 2020

The trial in Middlesbrough will only permit the use of the hire scooters being provided for rent.

I can understand Codemonkey’s plea for lifting the prohibition on using e-scooters but there are valid concerns about the safety of riders, pedestrians and other road users. Having a trial is a good idea to see how any risks can be mitigated. Scooter riders are very vulnerable in busy traffic and have an even smaller visibility than a cyclist. There is also a strong temptation to ride them on the footway which would create a further hazard for pedestrians, especially children, the elderly and disabled people.

It is interesting that the government has set the age limit for using e-scooters at 18 whereas you can get a provisional licence to drive a car on reaching 17 years of age [although you have to have a supervisor with you until you have passed the driving test]. This is presumably to ensure that e-scooter riders have acquired some experience of moving in traffic before going on the public highway.

The other inhibiting feature is the cost of using one. £2 for 20 minutes [to go less than 4 miles] might not even get you to the next drop-off point or to return to the start depending on the route selected.

The prevalence of rain is another turn-off; every passing lorry will give you a speed-wash.

I welcome trials so that we can learn about problems and change the rules if necessary before e-scooters are permitted across the country. It is a pity that this had not been done earlier because e-scooters could have avoided the risk of travelling by public transport in the current pandemic.

I don’t remember having trials of the C5 or e bikes.

I see e scooters as ideal for some for short journeys. Getting to your local public transport stop for example and completing your journey from where the service delivers you. They seem portable enough to take with you on the bus or tube. I would not see them as a substitute for using public transport on other than short journeys.

When you can ride a moped at 16 why is a slower e scooter treated differently?

You could stick a flag on a pole on an e-scooter to make it more visible but you should be as visible as on a bike since you stand when scooting along.

This mode of transport seems to have more legs than the ill-fated C5 where, as on some low trikes,, you were very vulnerable and out of view. And you can takes the scooter under your arm to store it away when you get to work, for example.

I suppose renting a scooter ensures only those with a licence and helmet will use them and, presumably, 3rd party insurance is provided. To ensure that is complied with if you owned one would requires registration and licence plates. But you can own and ride an electric bicycle without such restrictions. Many “ordinary” cyclists are a hazard to others, and vulnerable to others, and are not regulated.

On balance it seems perverse to place these restrictions on an e-scooter.

It looks as if it is now legal to ride e-scooters in central London: https://www.mylondon.news/news/zone-1-news/big-change-thats-been-made-18597839

If this article is correct, they can be ridden on pavements. 🙁

Only rented e scooters as a trial, like some other cities. It is proposed they should be allowed to use cycle lanes by pressure groups.

I would be surprised if they were allowed to use “conventional” pavements but maybe they could be used in pedestrianised areas on designated tracks?

What is appropriate for a city centre is likely to be different for a semi-rural area, so clear signs will be needed.

When I lived on the outskirts of a city I was doubtful about pedestrians and cyclists sharing a path but in the more rural area where I now live I am happy to share, irrespective of whether I am on foot or on a bike.