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UK Electric Scooter Law in 2020 – Are We Close to Change?

Electric scooters are an increasingly common sight on the UK roads of late, and they have been a hot topic in the news. With fines and points on your license being issued to people that are breaking the laws we look into the most recent information surrounding what the UK electric scooter law is.

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What are the current UK Electric Scooter Laws?

Privately owned e-scooters are illegal to ride in the UK anywhere other than private land. There are ongoing trials of rental e-scooters around the country intended to help ‘inform the future legal status of e-scooters and associated regulations’.

The official reasoning for why E-scooters are illegal in the UK is –

‘In the UK, e-scooters are classed by default as “motor vehicles” under the Road Traffic Act 1988. This means they are subject to laws requiring them to be built and used safely, including requirements for users to have insurance, driving licences, number plates, and helmets. Offences relating to driving standards and speeding also apply. The design of e-scooters makes it difficult for them to meet the regulations on vehicle construction so, in practice, their use is illegal on the road. Currently they can only be used on private land, with permission from the landowner.’

The ongoing rental e-scooter trials have seemingly caused some confusion among people who are looking to e-scooters as a new viable mode of transport. Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP himself recognised that the illegality of electric scooters ‘is still a matter of surprise to many, as we see the numbers grow on our streets alongside the Department’s permitted rental trials’.

With people actively looking for alternative ways to travel as a result of COVID-19 it’s understandable that people are turning to scooters. The popularity of scooting has been on the up as the micromobility industry experiences a boom due to lockdowns around the world, and people are looking to stay connected while avoiding crowded public transport.

As ‘the UK remains the last major European economy where e-scooters are still banned to use anywhere except on private land’ many people riding e-scooters illegally are likely to have taken the lead from other EU countries. In many European countries hopping on an e-scooter to get around is as common as getting on the bus, so a lot of people seem to think it’s the same here with the advent of rental e-scooters being allowed!

'Subject to the conditions we outline in this Report being met, we believe that the Department should take swift action to legalise the use of privately owned e-scooters on roads and cycle lanes'

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If E-scooter laws change, what can we expect them to be?

Based on the current rules around the ongoing rental E-scooter trials and information from other countries we expect the rules of ‘legal’ e-scooters to be similar to the following-

  • Riders to be aged 16 / 18+
  • Designed to carry no more than one person
  • Fitted with no motor other than an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W
  • Has a maximum speed not exceeding 15.5mph
  • Has a mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55kg
  • No insurance or type approval (tax) needed
  • No helmet wearing law (but strongly recommended)
  • Fitted with a bell (audible warning device)
  • Front and rear lights as part of the design
  • Front, rear and side reflectors as part of the design
  • Two independent brakes
  • Riders to share the same road space as bikes and EAPCs (Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles) – Meaning roads, cycle lanes, tracks but not on pavements

How safe are electric scooters? We take a reality check!

There is definite progress being made towards legalisation - slowly, but surely. The recent Transport Committee ‘E-scooters: pavement nuisance or transport innovation’ is a detailed examination of the current state of e-scooter safety, and the steps away from legality we are facing. One of the main takeaways from the report is that the committee says ‘e-scooters have the potential to offer a low cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to the private car.’

The recent electric scooter rental trials in particular are a key signifier that the wheels are in motion heading to change. The transport committee is currently ‘calling for a sensible and proportionate regulatory framework for the legal use of electric scooters, based firmly on evidence gained from current rental trials and from other countries’.

While the e-scooter trials are definitely a move in the direction of legalisation there are some noted flaws with the trials. One such issue being that ‘users of rental e-scooters in the Government’s trials are required to have a driving licence’ but as is rightfully stated ‘people without driving licences ought to be a key target demographic for the rental schemes, yet they are excluded.’ A large portion of people will be turning to e-scooters to get around as an alternative to the car, but a huge percentage of users will be using e-scooters because they don’t have a car to get around on.

Problems like this are slight, but could represent a hiccup in the smooth progress of the legalisation process as it develops. As is clear, the Transport Committee, and in turn Department for Transport are focusing a lot of their decisions around ‘the data gathered during the rental trials, in addition to qualitative and quantitative evidence from other countries’. For such a key demographic to be left out would surely leave an anomaly in the data.

Encouragingly however, the Transport Committee conclude their report by advising that ‘Subject to the conditions we outline in this Report being met, we believe that the Department should take swift action to legalise the use of privately owned e-scooters on roads and cycle lanes. We would expect this to take place within the next 18 months.’ So we may be heading to work on our Swifty e-scooters at some point in 2021!

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What are the obstacles in the way of electric scooter legalisation?

As with passing any new legislation there are a number of hurdles in the way of the legalisation of electric scooters. They general boil down to two main issues – environmental concerns and safety. Both topics are umbrella terms and come with a litany of other issues within them

Environmental concerns are a double edged sword for e-scooters. On the one hand there are strong benefits they can bring to ‘improve local air quality and help meet the Government’s carbon emission targets, particularly if they replace car journeys.’

On the other hand, ‘there are valid environmental concerns relating to the lifetime of the scooters and the processes used to charge their batteries’. You don’t have to look far to hear the horror stories of e-scooters being scrapped and dumped after very short use. The committee directly recommends ‘the Department should closely monitor the environmental impact of e-scooters during the rental trials and, if needed, consider introducing stricter requirements around sustainability.’

Electric scooter safety has been a hot topic for some time and is unsurprisingly a big chunk of the Transport Committees report. Without going into too much detail (you can read in further detail yourself here) the recommendations around this seem to be reliant on the data from the e-scooter trials as well as other countries data (see the Safe micromobility report for more info on this).

A couple of safety elements are directly stated by the committee for example –

  • ‘the Government should ensure that the law clearly prohibits the pavement use of e-scooters’
  • ‘Local authorities should determine the speed of e-scooters in their areas as a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work’
  • ‘The DfT should use the data from the trials to determine which e-scooter design requirements are appropriate for UK roads’
  • ‘Helmet use should be encouraged for rental and privately owned e-scooters’

Can scooter safety be improved by design? We explore the idea of a pothole test to test electric scooter design

While it’s increasingly commonplace in Europe and around the world to see people travelling on e-scooters, the lack of data for UK use and evidence seems to be one of the primary reasons behind the delays. For trials to give enough data for the government to build legislation behind they ‘need to be accessible to a wide range of people and take place in a variety of different settings’.

For example, the committee states that rather than focusing just on city use (where the majority of e-scooter conversation is centred) there should be a ‘good geographical spread around the UK and a balance in population density’.

The data from the e-scooter rental trials is undoubtedly key to helping garner ‘important evidence’ for policy to be based around but this is also currently omitting any understanding of privately-owned e-scooters. As the Transport Committee has noted - ‘the usage of privately-owned e-scooters, once legalised, will avoid some of the downsides of rental schemes, such as scooters being left as ‘street clutter’’. But they don’t negate the ‘concerns we highlight in this Report about pavement use, excessive speed, and enforcement’.

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What are the benefits of e-scooters?

The benefits surrounding e-scooter legalisation are plentiful, if the correct rules and legislation are put in place and enforced. As Huw Merriman says ‘e-scooters have the potential to become an exciting and ingenious way to navigate our streets and get from place to place. If this gets people out of the car, reducing congestion and exercising in the open air, then even better.’

We have covered the positives surrounding legalising e-scooters extensively in our blog so won’t go into too much detail here. But as this report has outlined some of the key potential positives are –

  • ‘They have the potential to offer a low cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to the private car’
  • ‘E-scooters have the potential to improve local air quality and help meet the Government’s carbon emission targets’
  • ‘E-scooters have the potential to become an exciting and ingenious way to navigate our streets and get from place to place’

One area the report doesn’t touch upon is what we’ve worked hard to make sure is central to our e-scooters at Swifty – the ability to use kick assisted e-scooters. A kick assist electric scooter is one that can be used as a normal e-scooter, but when you’re not using the electric motor can also be used as a normal kick scooter! By adding human power into an e-scooter ride, it can help reduce the amount of energy used meaning less often having to charge batteries which reduces some of the concerns highlighted.

Incorporating active travel ability into electric scooters would certainly help lead towards the positive change we all want. It would also bridge the gap of concerns there is that legalising e-scooters would discourage active travel, this has been laid out directly in the report - ‘promoting active travel must remain a key policy aim for the Department for Transport.’

It’s an exciting time for micromobility in the UK and this report represents a ‘sensible and proportionate regulatory framework for the legal use of electric scooters’. We support a lot of what has been outlined by the Transport Committee here, and it much of it echoes the report we submitted to the DfT earlier in the year, so are greatly looking forward further progress being made towards legalisation!

You can find a full summary of the main conclusions of the report HERE

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One thought on “UK Electric Scooter Law in 2020 – Are We Close to Change?

  1. avatar John Hollings says:

    I think the time has come to allow this type of transport in the UK. Why is it that other countries have allowed the use of Segways etc. I would love to have swifty as my mobility is such it would help me rather than a mobility scooter which are in abundance here. As long as people use them responsible, yes there are always 1 or 2 idiots, that they are speced with lights, bells etc. And I would advocate a use of a helmet compulsory.

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