The UK remains one of the last territories in the world to legalise e-scooters and recognise electric scooter safety initiatives, recently the Department for Transport has been heavily lobbied by scooter-share operators, desperate to tap into the opportunities of London, to no avail. But why?
Scooters appeal to people of different ages, fitness levels and physical abilities. They are easy, fun and most importantly they are an energy-efficient and clean way to move around a city. The best electric scooters, such as the ones provided by Swifty Scooters, also prioritise electric scooter safety, meaning riders can have peace of mind for their own welfare as well as the planets. In the USA and Europe, the proliferation of e-scooters used in shared-transport schemes have already clocked up millions of journeys and the trend is growing at a far faster rate than cycle-share schemes.
So UK, what are we waiting for?
The UK, and in particular London, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, where the streets are designed for the car and pedestrian binary. Light vehicles and public transit are the only way our future cities will be able to cope with the growing population, and more importantly air-quality targets, but without more space for lighter and safer vehicles like bikes and scooters, it's difficult to promote a change.
In terms of e-scooter safety (and bikes for that matter), there is little space to ride. The on-going E-scooter Trials are beginning to show that there is really limited space to ride, and one of the key results from the trials is bound to be that we urgently need more space to ride our scooters! Apart from the limited space for safe scooting, there are many low-quality, or 'toy-grade' e-scooters on the market. It is imperative that manufacturing electric scooter safety standards are published and adhered to as soon as possible. It is my view that e-scooter safety standards should align with bikes and e-bikes, as all Swifty Scooters do.
So, where can I ride my e-scooter safely?
Currently, to ride e-scooters safely and in line with the law in the UK, you must be riding on private land with permission from the landowner. There are designated trial areas which are still being tested within the UK of course. When safe e-scooters become permitted in the UK, and we are hearing positive noises from the DfT, I am certain on one thing. Electric scooters must share the space on the road with bicycles. This means that any law regulating e-scooter safety features must be suitable for the terrain, conditions and speed. The design of the e-scooter will determine whether it is fit to share the space with a bike, so here are the top things to consider.
Wheel-size - Is bigger better?
In the UK, bikes must be roadworthy which means the design must be suitable to ride electric scooters safely over cracks in the road, small potholes, manhole covers and drains. It is widely agreed within the bike industry that 16-inch wheels with pneumatic tyres is the minimum size for electric scooter safe road cycling, respected tyre manufacturers don’t even bother making tyres any smaller. It can be proven using simple geometry, that a 16-inch wheel can roll over uneven terrain, and the bigger the better. Anything with a wheel smaller is likely to cause ‘tripping’ on a normal road in the UK, and risk the electric scooter rider's safety.
Safe electric scooter speed - How fast can I ride?
With the average speed of a cyclist around 10-16mph, the e-scooter must be of a design that maintains good stability and control at that speed in order to stay with the flow of a cycle lane. It is easy to limit speed on a small electric motor, and in Europe, the safe e-scooter speed limit started at 15.5mph (25kph) but more recently in Germany, they have specified 12.5mph (20kph) and the lowering of the speed limit has been well received.
In Australia, where in some states you can cycle on the footpath, e-scooters are now allowed on the footpath but with 9mph (15kph) limit, and on the road or cycle lane at 15.5mph (25kph). The law around speed and place to ride varies around the world, and also regionally within countries. So any rider must check local legislation before riding.
A recent study by Public Health and Transportation dept in Austin Texas found that 30% of scooter-related injuries were because riders were travelling too fast, and 86% of injuries were caused by the rider losing control of the scooter for one reason or another (rather than the impact from a motor vehicle).
Which e scooter safety feature offers the best stability?
There are a number of electric scooter safety design considerations that give stability, and it all comes down to geometry. A longer wheelbase is essential for a stable and comfortable ride, especially at speed. A long wheelbase allows for the centre of gravity to be further back from the front wheel, and hitting any bumps can be more easily managed. A long wheelbase and larger pneumatic wheels can prevent front impact ‘tripping’ that so often cause a small-wheeled scooter rider to injure themselves.
Again, the larger wheel is critical because of something known as ‘deck drop’. Deck drop is when the load (ie. Your feet) can stand on a deck that’s lower than the wheel axles. This design feature adds significant amounts of stability for the rider. Steering is more stable and improves the electric scooter safety if it has a wider bar and a stem for a larger steering circle. Head tube angle and rake create trail – a crucial element of bicycle engineering that helps the vehicle to travel in a straight line.
All are factors in a well-designed scooter. Beware! Many e-scooters are unsafe and badly designed, with narrow bars, no rake, high deck, small wheels and no deck-drop, and certainly are more difficult to control at speed than a 16” scooter like one from British brand Swifty Scooters.
Weatherproof – the UK is wet!
As with a bike, tyre specification must be suitable for wet conditions. Any scooter with hard PU wheels are not suitable in wet conditions and threatens the electric scooter's safety. Large pneumatic wheels 16” and above with bicycle grade tyres (quality rubber composite, grip and pressure) are a must. Check for front and rear brakes, that must also be tested in wet conditions. Mudguards are also advisable!
Brakes, lights, reflectors and markings
Any safe e-scooter that is fit to ride UK streets must align with the rules written for bicycle safety in the Highway Code. That means front and rear brakes. For riding at night, there must be suitable lights front (white) and rear (red). Reflectors front (white) and rear (red) and side. Markings must clearly state manufacturers safety standard compliance and max load weight. Motorists must be aware that it is not so easy to indicate direction with hand signals using an electric scooter safely.
While the proliferation of suitable electric scooter safety features used by fleet-operators does continue to improve, the above list is a good benchmark for consumers and fleet managers to use as a guide. The more people using light vehicles like scooters and bikes, the more investment and space can be given to the infrastructure. It’s chicken and egg!
I absolutely agree with all the points you made regarding safe scooter design. With a background in sports car racing, motorcycle travel and bicycle riding I know only too too well the importance of wheel size and wheelbase. When I initially became involved in kick scooting I took one look at the tiny, urethane wheels co popular here in the US and said, No Thanks! Instead I opted for a kick scooter with 8” inflatable tires of decent width. Eight nervous miles later I began shopping for a scooter with larger wheels and I finally settled upon the Swifty Zero. After nearly 1,000 miles of riding the Zero on a wide variety of surfaces, from dirt carriage roads in Acadia National Park to Maine’s public roads full of potholes and various surface irregularities I remain an avid fan of the Swifty Zero! In sports car racing we use the term “dialed in” to express satisfaction with a race car properly tuned and set up for racing on a particular racecourse. The Swifty Zero more than qualifies to be called “dialed in!” Every design detail is carefully thought out and overall steering, balance, and braking performance are guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even the most demanding rider. Personally I prefer the kick scooter being self propelled over one being driven by electric motor. In today’s largely techno assisted culture there is something bravely simple in one providing the power rather than counting upon technology. But as electric powered kick scooters seem inevitable I am pleased to see Swifty applying the same exacting standards to their electric models as they did to their original kick scooters. Scooters of one stripe or another clearly have a vitally important role to play today as well as in tomorrow’s world and I am confident that Swifty electric scooters will remain among the creme of the crop!
‘Motorists must be aware that it is not so easy to indicate direction with hand signals using a scooter. ’ Fat chance of that if you ask me. I worry that non powered scooters ie kick scooters will be forced off the paths onto roads and I will get more abuse from pedestrians who don’t know my scooter is a kick scooter not a powered one. I don’t feel safe cycling on roads and I’d feel less safe on a scooter. I have my kick scooter on pavements and cycle paths precisely because of this.
Hello E scooters I am a user Safety issue is left right signalling . The much advertised lights in the handlehars . No good Too dim to see in daylight . You cant see them from the rear .
Reckon I see an easy solution with modern " textile electronics " Wearable velcro " arrows . Triggered by putting your elbows out
But I cant find a manufacturer of such a textile containing led arrows /
Any clues please ? Phil
It is indeed absurd that electric scooters are illegal in the UK. I’m looking at you as well New York!