The electric scooter is one of the best ways to get around town. It's relatively low carbon, compact enough to reduce congestion, convenient for short journeys, and often foldable for storage when you reach your destination. There is just one small problem: in the UK, they are largely illegal although in America, their legal status is more favourable. You can find out more from these two handy guides.
In Britain, there's something of a lack of information around the legal status of even the best electric scooters, but legal firm Bolt Burdon Kemp is trying to change that. They're currently drumming up business for their services – they offer legal representation to both e-scooter riders and pedestrians who have been in crashes and other difficulties – via a questionnaire designed to test your knowledge of electric scooter law. Give it a go; you might find it a bit of an eye-opener.
Bolt Burdon Kemp also has a variety of other articles on e-scooters, largely around the fact that they are currently not well regulated and, as noted, also not strictly speaking legal in most places, under most circumstances.
However Ben Pepper, an Associate at Bolt Burdon Kemp, thinks this is likely to change for the better, at least once the government get around to thinking about it properly.
"It's unlikely that private e-scooters will remain illegal," says Ben. "They are too popular, and the environment benefits, such as reduced congestion and pollution, are difficult to argue with."
So what is the current law around e-scooters? Ben explains that they are currently legally considered to be more like a car than an electric bike, as mad as that may seem.
"E-scooters are classed as motor vehicles as defined by section 185 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. All motor vehicles must have tax, MOT, lights, number plates and other certain characteristics, but e-scooters don't meet these requirements. This means they can't be insured, and so the only legal place you can ride them is on private land with the permission of the owner."
As to whether scooters owners who break the law should face the full weight of the law, Ben has some sympathy. In several parts of the country, e-scooters are legal but only if they are part of an experimental on-street hire scheme.
"Although they’re perfectly legal to buy, they’re illegal to ride on public roads and many e-scooter owners are completely unaware they’re breaking the law. Getting caught can mean a sizeable fine and penalty points."
“Confusion arises as the rented e-scooters which are part of the nationwide trials can be ridden on public roads," continues Ben. "It’s easy to see why people struggle to understand where they are allowed to ride their privately-owned e-scooter. Without clear laws which deal with the use of e-scooters, their safety and their insurance coverage, both riders and pedestrians will be at risk."
So what needs to happen?
“Without proper e-scooter laws, we will continue to see real problems. It is vital that anyone who has a collision that involves an e-scooter has a clear route to compensation for their injuries and financial losses. The government should be providing better education on e-scooters safety risks and the laws on their use."
We'd love to see a move towards legalisation of electric scooters, although this should also involve tighter regulation. At the moment, you can't even take an e-scooter on London transport, due to a faulty battery on one causing a fire in late 2021. Hopefully the various scooter hire schemes around the country will prove to be a success and pave the way for privately-owned electric scooters to be ridden, legally, safely and responsibly on the UK's roads and cycle lanes.