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.
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 more sustainably it’s understandable that people are turning to scooters. With rising living costs, and public transport sometimes chaotic and unpredictable since the start of the pandemic, e-scooters are a great way to travel cheaply and without polluting our streets.
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'
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’. Unfortunately the trials keep being extended without notice!
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 2022!
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 whether or not the Government feels the need to write new primary legislation for this category of light electric vehicles. There is always a limit to the number of new bills that can be put forward for debate, and often those which are deemed not so politically popular will take a side line. If there is a way to amend secondary legislation this would be a lot quicker.
Environmental targets are a reason to push the legislation for e-scooters forward. 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.’
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’.
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
If you cant go on the pavement at all then it’s not going to work, the roads are full of huge pieces of machinery with angry and aggressive people inside. The bike lanes are built into gutters and 99% of the time not fit for purpose, I mean people just park in them anyway. It’s bad enough riding a bike on the road never mind a scooter. People in cars are always in a hurry and usually aggressive, they will not give you any room. I’m someone who has rides every day, I’m not a lycra wearing biker just a normal guy who prefers a bike to a car. I get asked by motorist friends, why dont you get a car, my reply is, I just prefer to ride a bike, I feel more conectected to the World instead of sitting in my little bubble and being disconnected, its no wonder your unhappy.
Hi Anne, we’re only able to ship our e-scooters to the UK mainland at the moment (working to find a fix asap) as a result we have not applied for a general operating permit for Germany. We don’t have any current plans to make another scooter with a maximum speed of only 20kph currently, but we’ll take this suggestion on board!
I am really falling for your electric scooters! I would love to buy one to avoid public transport services and to have a healthier alternative commuting my 10km to work. Have you also applied for the general operating permit for Germany? Therefore, will there be an electric scooter with a maximum speed of only 20kph, too?
If you have to have a drivers license to ride a escooter then you wouldn’t buy a e scooter you would buy a car to get around, e scooters appeal to people that don’t have a drivers license so they should come under the same classification as bicycles.
Makes no sense what so ever in the UK that you can pay double the amount for an e bike which I’ve seen a massive increase on speed on them and still not aloud legally to ride an e scooter it’s pathetic and why not just penalise the idiots who mis use them and don’t stick to the correct routes and use the roads like you should… Your always get the idiots no matter what and will make the cities alot greener quicker. There’s always something implemented that’s going to bring money in there pockets over greener cities and effeciency of users to use them… Legalise then as soon as possible
It seems daft that whilst we re trying to wean people off fossil fuel based transport that we fine people for using electric scooters that are commonplace in Europe Residents in Antwerp use almost nothing but bicycles and e scooters!!
It makes no sense at all to rent an e scooter.
It makes a lot of sense to own your own E Scooter.
With the below in mind:
Riders to be aged 17 and Over with a provisional or full driving licence.
Design and use of scooters to carry one person only.
Fitted with a variable electric motor with a maximum output power rating of 500W.
Has a maximum speed not exceeding approx 12mph (11-12.5).
Has a mass including the batteries, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 60kg.
Wheel size to be no smaller than 12" with pneumatic tyres.
Insurance must be held with type approval granted but with 0% tax rating.
Approved type helmet wearing whilst riding Compulsory.
Fitted with a working bell.
Working front and rear lights – compulsory after dusk and before dawn.
Two fully independent Disc brakes front and rear.
Riders to share the same space’s as pedestrians, electric and pedal cycles -
designated cycle lanes, on or off road tracks such as bridleways and pavements – No general road use.
I am sure we can all live in harmony with the above and if it ever happens to pass law, then count me in as a convert.
Until then I shall continue to ride my E-bike clocking over 5250 miles in 4 years ownership.
More power to the E Revolution.
To use a helmet or not to use a helmet, that is a hotly debated question here in the USA. Years ago while touring the United States on a BMW motorcycle I was forced to make an emrgency stop when a vehicle ran a stop sign. Although I was traveling less than 5 mph at the time when I failed to get a foot down on the ground in time the motorcycle tipped over and my head struck the pavement. I will never forget the force of that impact and don’t doubt for a second that had I not been wearing a helmet I would have been seriously injured! My home state of Maine still doesn’t require motorcyclists to wear helmets but as I once said to a friend “Those too dumb to wear a helmet may not have a head worth protecting anyway!”
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.