We are a step closer to seeing widespread, legalised use of electric scooters on our roads later this year. The Department of Transport’s consultation finishes on June 2nd and government trials involving hire e-scooters payable by app have been accelerated.
The DfT announced: “The government is consulting on urgent legislation to allow trials of rental e-scooters to commence more rapidly and in more areas than initially planned. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic we are delivering a green restart of local transport. To support this and to help mitigate reduced public transport capacity e-scooter trials will be brought forward.”
It’s good news for e-scooter manufacturers as they watch the government unfold a new £2 billion package to make travel more conducive for walkers and cyclists. We are likely to see urgent building of bike lanes to make more room for non-cars, wider pavements, and new cycle and bus-only corridors to make active travel easier to manage while socially distanced.
E-scooters will become available on the street for hire, similar to the rental schemes seen in other countries. These allow people to unlock the e-scooter using an app, ride to their destination, park the e-scooter and pay in the app, usually priced by the length or duration of the journey.
Why are electric scooters illegal?
Despite increased popularity around the world, electric scooters have remained essentially illegal in the UK because of the country’s pre-existing laws. These laws categorise electric scooters as motor vehicles, but because scooters can’t pass the same safety and legal regulations as cars, they’re illegal to use on public roads. Since they are motorised, they’re also illegal to use on pavements, under the 1835 Highway Act.
The current situation means that most major electric scooter rental companies have been excluded from the UK. Bird has been a notable exception. Since 2018, the Santa Monica-based company has been running a trial of its electric scooters in London’s Olympic Park, which is legal because the park is technically private property. Established suppliers of electric scooter hire, such as Lime, will be poised to move into the UK market once legalised.
The consultation and trials are an attempt by the government to work out which regulations should be applied to electric scooters and their riders. It will establish minimum vehicle requirements and whether riders will be required to wear helmets, have insurance, or carry a license. There are also questions about whether scooters should be allowed to be ridden in cycle lanes or on pavements. The electric scooter industry has speculated that the UK is likely to introduce a maximum speed limit of 15 mph and requirements for both front and rear brakes, suspension, lights, and reflectors for visibility. However, a full driving licence is not required for the trials and younger people are being encouraged to take part. The DfT states: “We think it is appropriate not to require formal training or testing to use an e-scooter limited to 12.5 or 15.5 mph, as is the case with EAPCs. This will allow the maximum possible number of people to participate in trials. Those without a driving licence will be able to apply for a provisional licence to use a trial e-scooter. This will allow e-scooter use from the age of 16.”
Despite their illegality, electric scooters have become an increasingly common site on British roads, with the first fatal road accident of an electric scooter user reported last July. Currently a driver of an electric scooter on the road risks a £300 fine and six points on their driver’s licence. That looks set to change by autumn 2020.