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:
Yes my scooter came from @microscooters and they were very clear on the legalities. I went on to reiterate what they’d told me in a YouTube video. I’ve since spoken to a number of police off the record & they couldn’t care less as long as you’re riding carefully & wear a helmet.
— Christian Payne (@Documentally) August 14, 2019
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?