Kick-scooters and the law have a complicated relationship. Scooters are a fantastic alternative to walking and can provide safe and quick personal mobility around the city. However, finding anything written into law about the legality of kick-scooters is almost impossible. It is understood that kick-scooters should be ridden on the pavement or walkway, 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.
The Highway Act of 1835
If you look at the law which renders bicycles illegal on the pavement in England and Wales, The Highway 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.
It is clear that this law, which was written nearly 200 years ago, is obviously outdated if not laughably so: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 Highway Act 1835 Section 72 (England and Wales)
However, it is this section (section 72, written about animal herding) that renders bicycles illegal on the pavement (bicycles were 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, it is common sense that pedestrians have priority, but what has been written about this in 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. On a scooter it is much easier to brake, and one foot is also in contact with the ground when you ‘kick’.
The Highway Code and common sense advise
Because of the “grey-areas” regarding this roller category, it’s clear that a dose of common sense needs to be applied. 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 guidelines 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.
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 centres. 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 front and rear brakes, and to wear a helmet (especially if you are likely to pick up speed).
Bicycle infrastructure – encouraging cycling over driving
It is common to see a 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 only do this because busy roads are too dangerous to cycle on. In many areas of the UK, the cycle infrastructure is inadequate, or bikes are forced into dangerous bus lanes. This lack of planning infrastructure for bikes is a big factor for people when encouraging motorists to change their habits. There is a need for better cycling infrastructure in order to push people away from their cars and onto their bikes.
Scooter infrastructure – encouraging scooting overdriving
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. This helps reducing congestion and carbon emission inside city centres. In effect, scooter infrastructure is already existing. Pavements, footways and cycleways provide safe passage, without any investment from councils, while in effect reducing cars from the road.
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 a 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 6kph (walking pace) and up to 25kph on the cycle lane.
You can find more in-depth information about the law around electric scooters in our journal:
ELECTRIC SCOOTERS, HOVERBOARDS, ELECTRIC SKATEBOARDS – WHAT’S LEGAL?