In short, the answer is YES! Kick-scooters are a fantastic alternative to walking and can provide safe and quick personal mobility around the city. However, finding anything written into law is hard to find. It is understood that kick-scooters should be ridden on the pavement or walk-way, and not on the road. However, kick-scooters do not have right-of-way on the pavement, cycle lane or the road, which could have legal implications if an accident were to occur.
NOTE: This article looks into the law in England and Wales only. Please note that European law is much more up to date, with current inclusivity around alternative modes of personal mobility and electric urban-mobility devices.
For example, if you look at the law which renders bicycles illegal on the pavement in England and Wales, The Highways Act 1835 Section 72, one could claim that the wording could be inclusive of scooters. Until this law is updated, the wording of the clause will continue to spark debate.
The Highways Act 1835 Section 72 (England and Wales)
It is clear that this law which was written nearly 200 years ago, is obviously outdated if not laughably so:
“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.” The Highways Act 1835 Section 72 (England and Wales)
However, it is this section 72 (written about animal herding) that renders bicycles illegal on the pavement (bicycles were so classified as ‘carriages’ in 1888) and also cars (cars were classed as ‘carriages’ in 1903) so should this also apply to kick-scooters?
Section 72 – “carriage of any description”
Because of this catch-all definition of ‘carriage’, it must be explained that when it comes to pavements, we have to talk about right of way. Obviously pedestrians have priority, but what about the law? The BBC continues to state that “scooters and skateboards cannot legally be used on pavements….as they have no right of way over pedestrians” [BBC news Aug 2006] . We can agree that pedestrians have right of way, but this does not mean the same thing as scooters being illegal. There is no specification that scooters cannot share the pavement with pedestrians, although local bye-laws are able to specify otherwise.
Historically, English law is based on the fact that it is legal to do anything unless a law specifies otherwise. So perhaps it is more useful to compare a scooter with other non-mechanically propelled wheeled vehicles (or ‘roller’ category ie. skateboards, rollerblades etc.). It is probably useful to point out that one can ride a scooter with significantly more control than a skateboard, it’s possible to brake easily, and one foot is also in contact with the ground as you ‘kick’.
The Highway Code and common sense advise
Because of these ‘grey-areas’ regarding this roller category, it’s clear that a dose of common sense is applicable. One could, for instance, find it more helpful to take advice from the Highway Code rule 37 and 38 which apply to wheelchairs or ‘invalid carriages’ as it is legal for wheelchairs to share the road and pavement.
Rule 37: When you are on the road you should obey the guidance and rules for other vehicles; when on the pavement you should follow the guidance and rules for pedestrians.
Rule 38: Pavements are safer than roads and should be used when available. You should give pedestrians priority and show consideration for other pavement users, particularly those with a hearing or visual impairment who may not be aware that you are there.
Bicycle infrastructure – encouraging cycling over driving
It is common to see cyclist using the pavement particularly alongside a dangerous road or as a safer option for child cyclists. In both instances this would be illegal and you could pick up a fine. But we do it as busy roads are dangerous. In many areas of the UK, the cycle infrastructure is inadequate, or bikes are pushed into bus lanes. This lack of planning infrastructure for bikes is a big factor for people when encouraging motorists to change their habits. People are put off cycling by road danger, and so continue driving their cars even for short distances.
Scooter infrastructure – encouraging scooting over driving
In line with the rise in popularity of cycling, kick-scooting has also seen a rise. While commuter routes are increasingly cramped, roads are clogged and transport is expensive, scooting provides a fast alternative to walking as pavements provide a safer route. So the legality of scooters on pavements in the 21st century should not be contested. One scooter is one less car. In effect scooter infrastructure is existing. Pavements, footways and cycleways provide safe passage, without any investment from councils, while in effect reducing cars from the road.
Respect for pedestrians
Much of the time, pavements provide excellent free space for scooting, however it is important to respect pedestrians on those busy stretches in town centers. As rule 37 of the Highway Code states, “Pavements are safer than roads and should be used when available. You should give pedestrians priority and show consideration for other pavement users”. It is also important to stop at curbs, have good brakes, front and rear, and to wear a helmet if you are likely to pick up speed.
Electric scooters and the law
Electric powered scooters and self-balancing Segways were banned from public pavements in the UK in 2006 when DFT invoked section 72 of The 1835 Highways Act. The Segway was also banned from roads (which came as a huge blow to investors) as it did not adhere to EU vehicle certification rules. More recently (2015) self-balancing hoverboards were also banned on public land with guidance from the Crown Prosecution service, even though section 72 was not amended.
Other regions around the world are adopting more progressive attitude to these personal mobility vehicles. For example California granted “electrically motorized boards” (including electric scooters but not electric skateboards) legal on the sidewalk and highway in 2015 (AB-605 Electrically Motorized Boards). In Paris and increasingly around Europe, electric scooters are legally defined in terms of speed. Electric kick-scooters are legal on the pavement up to 6kpm (walking pace) and up to 25kph on the cycle lane. For more detail about electric scooters and the law, please read my next blog: Electric scooters, what’s legal?