Privately owned e-scooters will be legalised for use on public roads and cycle lanes in the UK as part of the Government’s new upcoming Transport Bill.
In this blog we will summarise the rules for electric scooters in the UK and what legal wrangling has occurred in the last few years. But first we will cut to the chase as there has been an announcement on the 11th May 2022 by the government following the Queen’s Speech. The DfT will be creating a new vehicle class for e-scooters!
What is the latest news about e-scooters in the UK 2022?
11th May 2022, Department For Transport, UK.
“Safety is at the heart of our plans to create a regulatory framework for smaller, lighter, zero-emission vehicles, sometimes known as e-scooters. Their popularity is clear and new rules are needed to improve safety and crack down on illegal use whilst unlocking innovation and growth in this emerging multi-billion pound industry."
“It is our intention that this bill will create a low speed, zero-emission vehicle category that is independent from the cycle and motorcycle categories.”
“New powers would allow the government to decide the vehicles that fall into this new category in the future and how they should be regulated to make sure that they are safe to use. We hope that e-scooters will be the first of these vehicles.” Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere
So significant change lies ahead! The announcement comes not a moment too soon considering the fast approaching Net Zero deadlines that the UK have pledged. The Department for Transport has a lot of work to do to reduce emissions significantly (55% from 2020) by 2030, and 90% by 2040.
How will e-scooters help to reduce transport emissions?
Transport is currently the UK’s largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, a large proportion is private vehicle emissions like cars and vans. Of those car journeys over two-thirds are short distance trips. It makes sense to advocate swapping for more sustainable modes where possible, and light zero emissions vehicles like bikes and scooters could be an option for people when making those shorter trips. But what about electric cars or EVs? According to recent research by IPPR, the current emphasis on electric car use for one’s ‘green’ personal vehicle, won’t reduce emissions. The growing population, and increase in car ownership (est. 28%) is predicted to lead to more traffic and more congestion, not less. Car traffic is predicted to rise by 11% between 2021 and 2050 unless there are more stringent policies put in place.
Promoting the category of light electric vehicles alongside cycling to reduce short distance car trips would certainly be a positive step towards this Net Zero goal. However, at this stage, it is unclear how long it will take for the new bill to be passed, and what type of light vehicles will be included. However, we can make an educated guess, and as always, feel free to comment below.
What types of light vehicles can we expect to be included in the new Transport Bill?
Baroness Vere has suggested that e-scooters could be the first of these light electric vehicles to be legalised on the roads and cycle lanes, possibly by January 2023 at the earliest. With other classes of vehicles like seated e-scooters, light electric mopeds, light electric cargo bikes and cargo e-scooters following suit. It is important to note that the difference between cycles and e-scooters could potentially be that e-scooters might be regulated in terms of safety, and potentially will have some sort of vehicle registration process, requiring you to insure your e-scooter, like the regulations in Germany.
In comparison, cycles are self-certified by the manufacturer, it is the manufacturer's responsibility to make sure the bike meets safety standards, but the rider is then free to ride without a license, tax, or insurance, as long as they ride within rules set out in the Highway Code. However, it is perfectly feasible that e-scooters could be certified by the manufacturer, and ridden without a special license or tax, like in France.
It is likely that the UK will find a happy medium, where e-scooter riders would be required to register the vehicles by way of a VIN, but can ride without paying vehicle tax. Insurance may then be optional, and the vehicles would be safety tested and self-certified by the manufacturer.
What key events have delayed the progress of micromobility in the UK?
When it comes to the topic of e-scooters, the discourse has revolved around safety for some time. In 2018, when e-scooter sharing companies emerged on the scene, the Silicone Valley start-ups were trail-blazing their own growth path, using low-quality e-scooters distributed around cities without docking stations, and charging riders by the minute, they were disruptive.
At that time, share-scheme e-scooters were reported to be leaving chaos in their wake, with reports of scooters left littering the pavements, being vandalised, and people riding unsafely, leading local authorities to begin to issue fines and restrictions to the operators. The British media loved to spread the news with fear-mongering headlines - e-scooters became a divisive topic from the get go. Great for clicks right?
In 2019, YouTuber Emily Hartridge was involved in a fatal collision with a truck on a roundabout in central London, while riding an e-scooter. The coroner ruled that the cause of death was an under-inflated tire on Ms Hartridge's scooter, rather that any fault of the truck driver. This fuelled the negative narrative surrounding e-scooters, and the police then started to issue fines to e-scooter riders in London.
The negativity of media coverage of e-scooters meant that it was more popular for politicians to be seen to be ‘cracking down on illegal vehicles’ than embracing the change. With Brexit and Covid presenting more urgent challenges, e-scooters went down on the priority list.
In 2020, e-scooter share operators were allowed to enter the market in the form of government trials. Initially planned to run for six months in certain local authorities, the trials are now due to end in November 2022. Any data from the trials are yet to be published, however, crucially the safety reports are so far very positive and the e-scooters have proved popular.
In 2021, an e-scooter caught fire on the London Underground. TfL then banned e-scooters from the trains, the tube and the buses in London, a real blow to scooter advocates. Foldable light e-scooters should be an ideal way for people to access their public transport hubs more easily, perhaps this will be reviewed.
How will the new Transport Bill ensure the safety of e-scooters?
Some straightforward rules would make e-scooters deemed safe in the eyes of the authorities. This is what we could expect from the new Bill:
- Minimum Age: Riders to be aged 14+
- Maximum Power: Fitted with an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of max 500W
- Maximum Speed: Has a maximum speed not exceeding 15.5mph
- Maximum Gross Weight: Has a mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55kg
- Vehicle Tax: Not required
- Vehicle Registration: Vehicles required to be registered via VIN and registration mark.
- Type Approval: Certified to safety standard BSEN 17128 by the manufacturer, which includes all technical requirements, ie brakes, lights, audible device, general product construction testing etc. This could include minimum wheel size of 12 inches as recommended by PACTS earlier this year.
- Insurance: Legal framework to enable insurance similar to bike insurance
- Helmet and PPE: Strongly recommended but not mandatory
Important amendments to the Highway Code - Hierarchy of Road Users and what this could mean for e-scooters
In January 2022, The government issued some important changes to the Highway Code. Most notably rule H1, the hierarchy of road users which provides clarification for the courts to identify which party has most responsibility in the event of an accident.
The lighter, slower party starting with pedestrians are more vulnerable or at risk on the road, and the larger, heavier and faster vehicles have most responsibility towards the more vulnerable party. Due to the diversity of vehicle types, it might be easier to work this out in terms of kinetic energy, where the vehicle’s kinetic energy is directly proportional to its mass and to the square of its velocity. KE = ½ mv2
Once e-scooters are included in the transport mix, it makes sense that e-scooter come in between cycles and e-cycles in the hierarchy depending on the vehicle’s weight and speed.
This is important because it is the first step to promote cultural change on the road.
Why are e-scooters not classed as Motor Vehicles?
The current state of the law in the UK puts e-scooters into the classification of ‘motor vehicles’ by default under the Road Traffic Act 1988. At the same time, they would not be type-approved even within the lightest category of motor vehicle, AM, or light mopeds, as they would require a seat, indicators, and are designed for faster speeds (between 15.5mph and 28mph), mandatory helmets and so on. These vehicles are not allowed in the cycle lane, which is where e-scooters would mostly be ridden, and have been ridden during the e-scooter trials.
When can I ride my e-scooter legally in the UK?
One can ride an e-scooter on private land with land owner’s permission currently (2022). However, we have to wait for the new Transport Bill to be passed to ride e-scooters on the road and cycle lane. There is speculation by the WMG that the new bill could be passed at some point in 2023, January at the earliest.