As far as I'm aware, there is no legal definition for kick-scooters and no advice on where to ride written into UK law. The purpose of this blog is to identify some useful legislation and help us to ride safely on our scooters.
The UK transport laws are outdated, and finding anything helpful on this subject is almost impossible. As with all true innovation, the law tends to follow, and perhaps the pure nature of innovation is in breaking the rules! But it's not helpful when we just want to scoot around safely, and there are frankly no rules to guide us. Please note that some important parts of the legislation vary between England, Wales and Scotland.
Need to Know
- Kick-scooters are defined as “A human-powered light land vehicle with a handlebar, deck and wheels propelled by a rider’s foot pushing the ground or ‘kicking’”. It is important to recognise that kick-scooters are not the same as a bicycle, as a bicycle is defined by its mechanical forward propulsion by way of cranks and pedals.
- Kick-scooters should be ridden on the pavement or footpath and not the road. As kick-scooters have no mechanical propulsion, they are slower and it would be dangerous to share the space on the road with motorised vehicles.
- Kick-scooters should be ridden on the pavement or footpath BUT do not have right of way on the pavement or footpath. Scooter-riders should always be prepared to stop or slow down to give way to pedestrians. If an accident were to occur, there may be legal implications on the scooter-rider, as pedestrians always have right of way.
- Kick-scooters should be ridden with caution. Any careless or dangerous riding (anywhere) that causes injury to another person could be liable to prosecution under the Offenses against the Persons Act 1861.
Read more about the scoot commute in the journal:
Five unexpected outcomes after a year of the scoot commute.
Are kick-scooters pavement legal in England and Wales?
Finding anything helpful that is written into law about whether kick-scooters are legal on pavements is near impossible. The debate around this issue revolves around the 1835 Highway Act, Section 72. This is the law that renders cars and bicycles illegal on pavements.
“If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers; or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway; or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon.”
Source: The Highways Act 1835 Section 72 (England and Wales)
Firstly, when we say “pavement” in legal terms, we mean “footpath” which is defined by being by the side of the road.
Secondly, neither bicycles or cars (or scooters for that matter) were in existence in 1835. The legal status for a bicycle as a “carriage” was defined in the 1888 Local Government Act, Section 85, allowing bicycles to share the road. This law extended the definition of “carriage” and the term started to include “bicycles, tricycles, velocipedes and other similar machines”. In 1903, the Motor Car Act was introduced. Since then, motor cars are classed as “carriages”, giving cars and bicycles the same road rights.
Right of way
When it comes to pavements, we have to talk about right of way because of this catch-all definition of “carriage”. What is the law around the use of pavements? In 2006, the BBC stated that “scooters and skateboards cannot legally be used on pavements…as they have no right of way over pedestrians”. Pedestrians having right of way does not mean the same thing as scooters being illegal on pavements. There is no clear specification that says that scooters cannot share the pavement with pedestrians. Local bye-laws can specify otherwise, therefore it’s always recommended to check with your local authorities.
Are kick-scooters pavement legal in Scotland?
In Scotland, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everybody the right to use non-motorised vehicles on most land in Scotland, including roads, tracks, and paths. Apart from trampling over gardens or disturbing working farm-yards, you can walk, ride your bike, kick-scooter or horse on any path, road or field margin.
Are children’s kick-scooters pavement legal in the UK?
There is no legislation currently prohibiting children’s kick-scooters on the pavements in the UK. There may be local bye-laws which prohibit scooter-riding in pedestrianised areas which would be identified by signage. Technically, children cycling on pavements is illegal, but it is also worth noting that children under the age of 10 do not have criminal responsibility.
Can a kick-scooter be defined as a "velocipede"?
Section 72 of the Highway Act of 1835 prohibits cycling on footpaths, which was amended by Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1888 that forbids velocipedes and other similar machines to use footpaths. If we would want the kick-scooter to share the road with bikes and cars, we might argue that the definition of “velocipede and other similar machines” might include kick-scooter. However, it could be argued that like the definition of a bicycle, the absence of pedals omits a kick-scooter from this category. At the time of the legal amendment in 1888, the velocipede is used to describe early forms of the bicycle, such as a penny-farthing, where the seated vehicle was propelled by cranks and pedals attached to the front axle.
Read more about the best folding adult scooter in our journal:
Best folding adult scooter, SwiftyONE, reviewed.
Bicycle and Scooter Infrastructure
Cyclists commonly use the pavement alongside dangerous roads or as a safer option for child cyclists. In both instances, the cyclist risks a fine because it is technically illegal. Since the 1980 Highway Act was introduced, cycling on footways is punishable with a fixed penalty notice of £30 (riders over 16 yrs), but this can vary depending on the local council bye-laws. Where the cycle infrastructure is inadequate, it is dangerous and sometimes the pavement is the only safe option for cyclists, particularly children. The lack of infrastructure for bikes plays a big factor when it comes to encouraging motorists to change their behaviour and habits. The dangers cycling brings with it in the UK is very off-putting for many people, so they will continue to drive their cars. Even for short distances.
Kick-scooting has, just as cycling, seen a rise in popularity over the last few years. Where commuter routes are cramped, there are miles of traffic conjunctions and public transport is getting very expensive, scooting provides a fun and fast alternative to walking on safer routes. The legality of scooters on the pavement in the 21st century should be embraced, and also defined in legislation. Scooter infrastructure is already existing: pavements, footpaths and cycle paths.
Electric Scooters and The Law
Electric powered scooters fall in a different category compared to human-powered kick-scooters. In 2006, e-scooters and self-balancing Segways were banned from public pavements in the UK. This happened when DFT invoked section 72 of the 1835 Highway Act. Segways were also banned from roads because they did not comply with the EU vehicle certification rules. In 2015, self-balancing hoverboards were also banned from public areas. All of these can be still used on private land.
A more progressive attitude to personal electric mobility vehicles is seen in other regions around the world. California granted “electric motorized boards” (including e-scooters) legal on sidewalks and highways in 2015. In France, non-motorized scooters are considered pedestrian mobility aid and therefore have the right to be used on sidewalks. Scooter riders are only allowed to do so when they do not interfere with the movement of other pedestrians, respect pedestrian traffic lights, use protected passages to cross the road and do not exceed a speed higher than 6 km/h. In other European countries, similar laws are in place. Some countries also allow e-scooters on cycle lanes, providing they won’t pass the 25km/h limit.
You can find more detailed information about electric scooters and the law in our journal: Electric scooters, what’s legal?