/ 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?

21/06/2021: Testing electric scooters

Would you buy an electric scooter, even though they're currently not legal to use in public spaces?
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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.

Should e-scooters be legal to use?
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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? 

Comments

Worse is yet to come.?

Hi everyone. We have an update on this subject I’d like to share:

Today, we’ve published tests of 10 electric scooters – putting them through tough acceleration, hill climb and braking tests. They can be found here:

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/electric-scooters/article/best-electric-scooters-aZJjQ8X0QiKh

While e-scooters are currently illegal in public spaces, they are legal to buy and ride on private land and are becoming increasingly popular. We felt that it would be remiss of us to avoid covering the subject, or even being late to it, when the consumer demand is so high because the law is confusing.

We feel it’s important for us to test these products so that we can address any risks, hazards or issues on behalf of UK consumers.

Many MPs and transport groups are putting pressure on the government to change the rules for good – you can read the latest in our guide here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/electric-scooters/article/electric-scooters-everything-you-need-to-know-aE1171G3KWc8#when-will-electric-scooters-be-legal

I am really not sure of the point of testing products that cannot be used. How many are going to use these on private land? I would have thought this should wait until they are road legal. It would be more useful, perhaps, to publish a test report on all the e-bikes on sale. More scope for those being used.

I would prefer Which? to report on the safety issues of e-scooters, rather than on products that are legal to own but illegal to use except on private land.

Some of the concerns have been discussed in this Conversation.

This is a very weak rationale for testing a product. Why not apply the same rationale to other products that can be legal to own but illegal to use in public places, such as firearms?

I disagree that the law is confusing.

The law might not suit some people and it is open to wilful non-compliance like many laws seem to be, but the government and the police have made the legal situation perfectly clear and responsible retailers will too.

One interesting question not explored is whether riding an e-scooter on the footpaths in a public park is permitted if there are no signs saying otherwise. That would be private land albeit owned by a local authority or public body.

Once again, Which? assumes that everyone works in an office – obviously one that is fully accessible via private land and where the staff are freely allowed to charge up their machines.

Or might this just be Which? trying to increase its appeal to a younger demographic?

PS – I don’t expect to see which testing firearms any time soon, not least because no-one in the UK is campaigning to legalise their use in public places, not even for shooting catalytic converter thieves or internet scammers.

Also, many YouTube channels already have the firearms testing business already well in hand.

I expect there would be a separate bullet-in about firearms.

T.T says:
1 August 2021

The problem is the same with e-bikes. Too easy to have these things chipped into a dangerous condition. Everyone is flouting the law and if the police are saying they don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the problems then they should not be legalized or the roads will turn into a Mad Max film.

It is a shame, it should be a good idea. 15mph is a suitable speed and it would reduce pollution and congestion. Unfortunately people can’t be trusted and they have zero respect for the law or other road/path users. There is this new age entitlement that the law is optional if you disagree with it. Everyone is getting these things chipped, and lets face it they are not safe at 30mph+, people are going to die.

They should ban them for all use, including private. If they can’t regulate them in use they need to ban them at source. Everyone knows people aren’t using them on private land. It is a fiction, and it is clearly being abused. Looking the other way is absurd.

But, if “new age entitlement” is the problem and there are no police available to enforce such a ban, how will this help?

If 15mph is a good enough speed why isnt this limit imposed on cars too?,after all far more deaths and injuries are caused by cars than e scooters or e bikes

Dave – Cars have powerful brakes, gears, full lighting, proper steering and large wheels. The saloon is also an enclosed space with many safety features. A scooter going at much more than 20 mph on ordinary roads with all their imperfections and exposure of the rider would be very hazardous. Where traffic is confined to 20 mph, vehicle collisions are less likely to be fatal and this is increasingly the maximum speed in built-up areas.

“Dave – Cars have powerful brakes, gears, full lighting, proper steering and large wheels. …….”

And a licensed and insured driver assessed as competent by an appropriately qualified assessor.

Well, most are licensed and insured and were competent when tested up to 60 years ago. Just like car drivers, you will get better and worse scooter riders. A fairly simple machine so awareness of others is the key requirement, rather like a bike.

I expect they will be assessed as street legal and become part of traffic. I presume they are easily carried on public transport so they can do the beginning and end of a journey. So useful for local journeys and commuters.

Catching the pests who abuse their use will be the main problem. Perhaps the polices will be equipped with high speed versions to catch those who try to scoot off.

Maura Cherriman says:
1 July 2021

Cannot understand why you can’t ride them on cycle paths! Also, if they have front and back lights, they should be allowed on the road the same as bicycles!

Geoff says:
15 July 2021

Where I live, bikes are routinely ridden on pavements. Mostly this is with care, and giving priority to pedestrians.
But I have also experienced cyclists travelling with excessive speed and putting pedestrians at risk of injury or worse.
But cyclists increasingly think that cycling on pavements is normal, and that nobody minds
Further, in my town there are cycle ways that’s are shared with pedestrians. This confuses the issue even more.
Today I saw someone riding an electric skateboard on today shared path.
Where people break the law or is almost impossible t for the public to complain, as bikes and EScooters have no number plate and can’t be identified for reporting purposes.
People are being encouraged to buy these E scooters and the like, and mostly with the full intention of using them illegally.
Thec logic of all this is that people will get even more used to disrespecting the law, and breaking it, and pedestrians will become more and more afraid to go outside and walk in our turns and cities.
This is an unholy mess, and Which is deeply irresponsible in contributing to making that worse.

Hi my argument is if the government classes e-scooters as vehicles as they have a motor so not sure as what to do, but you can ride e-bikes that have motors so why are they allowed as they are made from the same motors as scooters, they should be banned then and in the same class as the e-scooters are they both have motors but only one is legal WTF government wake up and get a grip 🤬🤬

Chris – I think the only way you might get an answer to your question is by sending it to the Secretary of State for Transport whereupon a civil servant might oblige you with a policy statement.

One possible explanation is that the government doesn’t really know itself so is carrying out a trial scheme in 40 towns and cities to see what works and what doesn’t and to see what the public reaction is.

Just guessing, I feel that the size of the wheels, the form of steering control, and the overall balance of the rider are significant differences between the performance of an e-bike and that of an e-scooter when ridden on the carriageway and in traffic.

While I am not opposed to e-scooters, I should be worried if they were allowed to be ridden on dual-carriageways where general traffic customarily weaves between lanes; I do not feel that mobility scooters should be allowed in such situations but sometimes, without a lengthy detour, there is no reasonable alternative route.

No matter how competently e-scooter users ride, until drivers of all vehicles are equally competent and considerate, scooter, bicycle and motor-bike riders are all at a disadvantage and their safety should be the paramount consideration in determining policy.

I wonder what the point is of e-scooters. You cannot carry your shopping on them. Can you take them on the train to complete the commute, rather than having to use a bus or taxi. Clearly the current trial doesn’t allow that. An e-bike is at least capable of being fitted with panniers to be useful

I think we need something in between the e-bike and the full-blown and expensive electric car. Maybe carrying two people plus shopping, basic weather protection, not taking up much road space and a lot simpler in features and construction. An electric TucTuc for example. Perhaps something we should be developing and manufacturing in the UK. They are available in the Far East.

C5 ++ now battery technology has caught up with the concept?

Malcolm, it would be easy to carry small amounts of shopping on an escooter, eg by using a backpack, just as I do when walking.

I think the main point of escooters is for personal point to point transport, as an alternative to taxis, buses, private cars,
other two wheelers (either powered or not) or walking.

Personally, I try to walk rather than drive in towns and cities, but there are some trips where an ebike or escooter would be better than either of those.

A rechargeable golf buggy might be suitable for local shopping trips but they don’t take up much less space than a small car. I don’t know whether or not they are classed as road vehicles, or are even roadworthy.

I saw a three-wheeled Reliant Robin Rialto pick-up truck the other day and thought it could possibly form the platform for an electric passenger/utility vehicle for use in towns.

Watch: Which? tests the Xiaomi Essential electric scooter Find out how this e-scooter fared in our tough braking, hill-climb and acceleration tests and whether we recommend buying it

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/07/which-tests-the-xiaomi-essential-electric-scooter/ – Which?

I see little point in spending time and resources on testing e-scooters when they cannot be bought for use on the road. Best wait until they become road legal. Meanwhile, it would be more useful to test electric bikes. Three e-bike maintenance jobs you need to keep on top of
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/07/three-e-bike-maintenance-jobs-you-need-to-keep-on-top-of/ – Which?

Gary S says:
29 July 2021

well written john, my concerns, re the lack of a e scooter proficiency test, no legal yearly mot for e scooters and most of all if they can kill pedestrians why is there no insurance nor number plate for identification.

Gary — You might ask the same question about push bikes but it is considered burdensome to impose such requirements on all pedal cycle riders just because of the very rare casualty or fatality. There is usually enough forensic material remaining at the scene of such an incident to enable the cause to be fully investigated and attributed. The mass of a a bicycle or scooter does not compare with that of a motor vehicle so any personal injury is unlikely to be critical in most instances.

Because an ebike you have to pedal to make the motor work so it’s called assistance if you stop pedaling the motor stops not so an e scooter

One drawback of commuting on two wheels is the potential risk of collisions with other vehicles.

Here is a cautionary tale: https://youtu.be/fXeRKq-1WG8

I think it was Honda’s introduction of the 50cc moped in Japan that both brought personal motorised transport to the masses and solved a lot of their traffic congestion problems.

As a student I rode a Honda C50 (small motorcycle rather than a moped), which was inexpensive, economical, convenient, provided freedom from using public transport and I could park free and under cover in the university.

Derek – That’s an interesting video, thanks. I’ve never felt I need a dashcam in the car but I can see why those on two wheels use them.

Very true @wavechange, the outcome of that collision could have been a lot worse. Thanks for sharing @derekp

What was very disturbing was that the driver was convinced they were in the right and clearly thought that, to exercise that right, they were justified in creating a collision that could have been serious. I would have thought that would be classed as dangerous driving.

I frequently meet horse riders and groups of cyclists on our local rural roads. Sometimes they appear a little thoughtless – riding two abreast with cars waiting to overtake safely, not leaving a gap in a line of cyclists to let a car make progress for example – but they have just as much right to use the roads as I have and, as I am not an emergency vehicle, I should be able to wait a little to get past safely. Life is too short to be nasty to others.

Cyclists often ride two abreast for safety, but this can confuse drivers who are unaware of the reason and assume they are being obstructive: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/26/uk-cycling-groups-say-rule-on-riding-side-by-side-is-causing-confusion

However, to quote from the article: ”Cycling UK, the country’s leading cycle charity, has suggested the wording instead says riders should be considerate of other road users, while adding: “You can ride two abreast and it is often safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Switch to single file if you consider it safer to allow drivers to overtake.” A reasonable approach.

”Cycling two abreast is deemed to be safer in certain road situations. For example, if a driver has to overtake club riders on a rural road, when they are bunched side-by-side, this halves the length of any group” This will depend upon the size of the group. Cycling clubs often use our local rural roads for events and the numbers in groups can be quite large. Making a break to give a refuge for overtaking motorists can be quite sensible.

Em says:
6 July 2021

Making a break … as also required by Rule 66: “not ride close behind another vehicle“.

I have no problem following, and eventually overtaking, a pair of cyclists or a normal width road. But a convoy of cyclists riding two abreast and not leaving a gap for safety is unacceptable. I don’t see anywhere in the rule that says “except on Sundays”.

I have nothing against cyclists by the way, but yet another special interest group, whinging and interpreting one part of a rule in their favour, whilst conveniently forgetting another part of the very same rule.

Thankfully motorists and cyclists seem to coexist happily round here.

As a keen towpath walker I’m not keen on the minority of cyclists that race along. Some upload their speeds using the Strava app.

In the above YouTube video, clearly the car driver is triggered into deliberately injuring the cyclist and did actually cause significant injuries.

I was surprised that Cheshire Police did not attempt to prosecute her. Perhaps she was exPolice and they closed ranks to protect her.

However I also suspect the cyclist could have adopted a less assertive posture and perhaps avoided getting the car driver so riled.

When avoiding road rage, discretion can be the better part of valor.

A pragmatic observation is that it is better to escape injury or death, even when other parties may be at fault and even if you’ll have front and rear dascam footage to show that.

Quite. Better to arrive alive than dead, however in the right you are (were).

In other news, the venerable Honda Cub is now the Super Cub, see:-https://www.honda.co.uk/motorcycles/range/125cc/super-cub-c125/specifications.html

I see it has grown to 125cc and now lists at £3499, much more than a decent electric bicycle.

It probably goes a bit faster than the 45 mph than my Honda C50 achieved. It cost about £105, back in the early 70s.

Mike says:
22 July 2021

I have been a keen cyclist in the past ( only stopped due to a non bike or e-scooter related injury ) and have been using an e-scooter for my last mile commute for over 2 years. So before i get started i have no bias to cyclists but i think there are some very relevant comparisons.

My e-scooter is limited to 15mph and weighs about 10kg , my bike ( pedal not e-bike) i could easily hit 40mph and it weighs about 10kg so if i remember any of my physics GCSE then both machines traveling at the same speed and weighing roughly the same would cause the same impact if it hit something like a pedestrian , in this scenario if i was hitting the top speed the bike was capable of then that impact would be much greater.

The fact that one is electric and the other human powered is utterly irrelevant in every way other than the vehicle classification . So to all those shouting for e-scooters to be banned on what basis , safety ? ok then lets lobby to ban them but by the same token for safety reasons then we should also ban e-bikes , push scooters and pedal cycles as for every bad experience, injury, death there has been a far higher number of incidents with human powered machines. Where do we stand on prams and pushchairs , an inconsiderate mother rammed her pushchair into my ankle the other day – lets ban them as well – the machine is not the issue the stupidity of people is

Do i think they should be regulated , absolutely. If they became legal and i had to register , display a number plate and get insurance then i would have no problem with this at all , but why should those exact same rules not apply to cyclists. I had a cyclist undertake me a few years ago while i was stopped at traffic lights , his pedal scraped literally from the back to the front of my car – he realised , stopped and turned round and smiled before pedalling off through the red light never to be seen again (£1400 bill thank you ) so again not the machine the stupidity of people

99.9% of cyclists and e-scooter users are considerate of pedestrians and other road users so again its not the machine that defines if it is safe or not. I have been riding through the centre of Manchester for two years without a single near miss, incident or complaint , I push it at walking speed though the busy pedestrian areas and use the road or cycle path when i am not

I live in a city with one of the trials and its a joke , of course every Friday and Saturday night people are going get drunk and then hire an e-scooter – the trials are literally putting the opportunity for misuse right in front of judgement impaired people. If legalised then most of those people would not have travelled into the city on their own e-scooter so they would not have the ability to misuse

So e-scooters are not coming , they are already here and people need to accept that , as long as the rules are comparable to other non car road users then i am good with that. With the drive to move to electric cars which 90% of the population cant afford then I really dont see any option but legalisation of alternative transport methods

Mike – I think there are significant differences between riding a pedal cycle and riding an electric scooter, especially in terms of steering, stability and balance [all other factors being equal]. In particular, the small wheels on a scooter do not cope well with imperfections in road surfaces and the shorter wheelbase on a scooter leads to more erratic weaving when among other road users.

I don’t disagree with the general thrust of your argument. With an increasing proportion of urban roads having a maximum speed of 20 mph there is little theoretical difference between the impact of a pedal cycle and that of an e-scooter, and yet the scooter is perceived to be a greater hazard. Purely anecdotally, however, I have seen more irresponsible riding on e-scooters than on pedal cycles [although excess speed is a common problem with bicycles on shared cycle & pedestrian paths] and I expect that influences public opinion. Scooter riders with speed limiters are more likely to be riding safely than manic cyclists who seek to burn up the road at excess speed and refuse to come to a complete standstill at the traffic signals.

I don’t see any argument for licensing, number-plating and compulsory insurance for e-scooters any more than for bicycles.

Sam Bailey says:
22 July 2021

I’d like to congratulate the Met and other Police forces on their recent clampdown on E Scooters. A concerted effort by them over the past few weeks to issue 6 penalty points to riders of vehicles that do 15mph and weigh as much as two bags of shopping, will have massively increased the level of risk to pedestrians. Data from the US shows cars are about 50x more likely to kill a pedestrian per mile driven than an E Scooter.

By pushing people from using E Scooters back in to cars, not only have they increased air pollution, noise and CO2, they’ve made everyone else less safe.

Sam – Are you suggesting that the police are clamping down on e-scooter riders that have not broken the law or been involved in a personal injury or fatal incident? The reports I have read of police action have always involved one or other or both of those justifications for their intervention. We probably don’t get to know about those cases where the police give words of advice or a caution and take no further action.

Rebecca Rowland says:
15 September 2021

How is it that they are illegal, yet the council provide e scooters at shopping centres to be riden around towns??

Technology can ensure that it becomes very difficult for riders to use a rental scooter if they ride irresponsibly, riding on footpaths, on another person’s license, two or more at time including young children. Unfortunately irresponsible behaviour is happening every day, several times per day. I see it and witness it. Currently technology as fitted to the scooters doesn’t go far enough, yet it does exist but the organisations are not employing it. My thoughts are, that they get revenue from both legal and illegal riders. That means little to no incentive to increase the safeguards. I want the government to force these organisations to fit better technology to stop lawlessness.

News just in:-https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58066465