BSB Solicitors research forecasts that electric scooters are set to be a popular gift this Christmas season, but in a survey we found that the public don’t know where they can be legally ridden in the UK. We look further into the rise in popularity of this form of micromobility and what implications illegal riding can have if you’re caught.
43% of Brits cannot correctly identify where it is legal to ride an electric scooter in the UK, a new survey revealed.
In the poll conducted by BSB Solicitors, only 25% of people correctly identified it was only legal to ride on private land. Of those surveyed almost 20% said it was legal to ride an e-scooter on public roads, 10% said it was legal to ride on the pavement while 32% were not able to answer or said they didn’t know the answer.*
An electric scooter, or e-scooter, is similar to a traditional children’s scooter but has a motor attached. At present it forbidden to ride an e-scooter anywhere other than on private land with the landowner’s permission. Riders face a £300 fixed-penalty notice and six points on their driving licence. As the law stands, riding an e-scooter on the pavement is an offence against the Highway Act of 1835, while riding one on the road is an offence against the Road Traffic Act 1988 unless you have a driving licence, insurance, helmet, road tax , registration plate and lights – something the DVLA refuses to provide for ‘unroadworthy’ vehicles.
And it’s all to do with how vehicles are classified; e-scooters are classed as powered transporters, which is a is a term used to cover a variety of novel and emerging motor-powered personal transport devices. Due to their design and motorisation, they fall under the legal definition of a motor vehicle[source] but as they don’t have, or aren’t able to have visible rear red lights, number plates or signalling ability they can’t be taxed or MOT’d so therefore cannot be legally ridden on the roads[source].
Their safety has been discussed in the media following the first fatality involving an e-scooter. Television presenter, Emily Hartridge, tragically died after her e-scooter collided with a lorry in south London in July 2019[source]. The following day a 14-year-old boy was left critically ill after his e-scooter crashed into a bus stop[source].
E-scooters have become increasingly visible in our urban areas, including on roads and pavements. An e-scooter can be bought easily from online and offline retailers, cost between £115 and £1,200, reach speeds of up to 30mph and travel distances between 10 and 80 miles on one charge[source]. Some vendors have come under pressure to alert purchasers about the legal status of these vehicles. Halfords, Amazon and Aldi have all added warning messages to their online stores[source].
Their popularity rise is also reflected in online trends. The number of monthly Google searches for ‘electric scooters’ was 135,000, and 14,800 for ‘e-scooters’ – both rising 22% in the past 12 months*.
The term ‘e-scooter online’ saw a 12,900% increase searches over the past 12 months*. Users searching with the term ‘online’ could be argued to be doing so with buying intent i.e. looking to purchase. The vast majority of these searches took place in September and October of this year, perhaps suggesting that e-scooters might be one of this year’s top Christmas presents. (*Source: keywordtool.io / Google)
BSB Solicitors’ partner, Jonathan Black, comments: “Following on from the popularity of drones, e-scooters are likely to feature high on the gift lists of many households who need to be warned that although affordable, it could be an extremely costly gift both in terms of the fines that are paid for illegal riding and the injuries caused.”
Why the rise in popularity? Along with their convenience e-scooters have become much more affordable. In 2010 the cost of an electric vehicle battery pack was $758 per kWh, whereas in 2017 it had dropped to just $158 per kWh[source]. Improvements in battery technology have also meant longer vehicle ranges and lower weights.
Another reason for the rise in popularity of e-scooters is that urban commuters are also looking to improve their commuting experience. According to one survey, 21% of travellers say their commute has become less reliable over the past five years and 33% say it is more crowded[source]. Many have taken to pedal bikes; between 1999-2017 cycling volumes increased 292% [source]in London. And in the capital distances travelled by those on bikes grew 5% last year[source] – either as a result of better cycling infrastructure or commuters living further on the outskirts of the city. Perhaps the accessibility of e-scooters means people are looking for alternatives to cycling, and less exertive ones at that.
It would seem those wishing to cut the cost of their commute would also benefit from an e-scooter. Annually it costs British workers nearly £800 to and from work[source], while Londoners spend an annual average of £1,644[source].
Despite the fact that it is not legal to ride an e-scooter on the road, one can see the appeal when it comes to using them as a method to commute. Cheaper, once you’ve paid off the immediate cost, quicker than a bike (less sweaty and tiring), a far less crowded travel experience in addition to being environmentally friendly (a factor of which people are becoming ever more conscious).
Since the start of 2018 there have been more than 1,600 incidents involving electric scooters, hoverboards and Segways[source]. Although these figures do include reported thefts and non-crime incidents related to these vehicles, they also include accounts of highway disruption, road traffic collisions and other road-related offences. Unfortunately there is no individual breakdown for the number of e-scooter incidents alone. The data is also limited as it only includes responses from the British Transport Police and 27 out of the UK’s 45 territorial police forces.
What happens if you get caught riding an e-scooter illegally?
If a police officer stops you while riding an e-scooter illegally, they may issue you with a warning, an on-the-spot fine or they may decide to prosecute. Should the latter occur, you may be reported for summons, which is when you or a solicitor acting on your behalf will be required to go to court to hear answer to your charge.
- If you are successfully prosecuted you could face a £300 fine and six points on your driving licence. If points are added to your licence and you accrue more than 12 within a three-year period will automatically be disqualified for a minimum period of six months unless you are able to argue exceptional hardship. If you have accrued more than six points in the first two years of passing your test, then you will have your licence revoked. If you do not have a licence, or are too young to hold one, points can be added to any future licence that you might hold. In October last year a 15-year-old boy was given six points on his future driving licence by a magistrate court for riding at high speed on an e-scooter [source][source]
- Those who ride dangerously or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can also be convicted of offences which lead to imprisonment.
- If the incident leads to the injury or death of someone it can result in prosecutions for careless driving or dangerous driving, or causing death by careless driving or dangerous driving.
Motor vehicles are defined by the Road Traffic Act 1988 and therefore riding an e-scooter on the road without a licence, insurance, helmet, road tax or registration plate is illegal (riding an e-scooter on the pavement is an offence against the Highway Act, 1835). Some have tried to overturn their convictions by challenging that e-scooters should be classed as motor vehicles, but these have not been successful.
- In 2000 a court ruled that a Go-Ped scooter counted as a motor vehicle, and its rider was convicted for not having insurance and not wearing a helmet (and running a red light). [source]
- In 2002 the conviction of an appellant was upheld for the offence of driving a vehicle (a ‘City Bug’ electric scooter) without insurance[source]
How we can help
If you are to be prosecuted for riding an e-scooter illegally, or you are to face prosecution for a more serious offence involving an e-scooter, then is advisable to seek the representation of a solicitor.
How does the UK differ to other nations?
E-scooters have been quick to take hold in both European cities and in the US where their legal status differs from here in the UK. In countries where they are legal or fall within a grey area, scooter sharing schemes have taken off. Often they are hireable via an app and are ‘free floating’ – whereby you can pick them up and drop them wherever[source]. Companies such as US-based Lime, Bird and Swedish Voi have brought their sharing schemes to Europe.
E-scooters are convenient for tourists wishing to cheaply hop around during their city break, and despite the fact that they reduce traffic and have green credentials, e-scooters are not always experiencing the warmest of receptions. The sheer number of them – often dumped unceremoniously in the street – has caused clutter as well as hundreds of incidents involving vehicles, some with fatal consequences[source]. There has been a notable push by authorities to try to regain control of their streets.
Germany’s Cologne expects 40,000 users by the end of this year and they are looking to enforce clearer regulations as to where and how e-scooters can be ridden[source] . Copenhagen has had to clamp down on intoxicated scooter use [source]. Meanwhile the onslaught Paris – there are 20,000 of them[source] – has experienced following the launch of e-scooter sharing schemes has triggered mayor Anne Hidalgo to implement much tougher rules. This includes but is not limited to implementing a top speed, using cycle lanes where possible, the wearing of hi-vis clothing and helmets when in use on faster roads, one rider per scooter and no mobile phone use. Riders flouting the rules can be punished with fines ranging between €135 to €1,500[source].
Since 2018 there have been 11 deaths associated with e-scooter use, these have occurred in Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Stockholm and London[source]. Madrid banned them after the death of a pedestrian and in Vienna there have been more than 200 accidents since October 2018 [source].
What does the future hold for e-scooters?
In the weeks following the death of Emily Hartridge, there was a notable crackdown on illegal e-scooter riding in London. One hundred people were stopped – most were given warnings but ten were fined[source]. Enforcement of the law seems to be haphazard, seemling only imposed when riding is particularly careless and causing obvious danger. Policing illegal riding of e-scooters is not high on the priority lists of most officers, and so it makes sense that authorities would prefer to review existing laws, rather than issue further clampdowns.
Whether or not the Department for Transport (DoT) has faced commercial pressure from robustly funded scooter sharing companies, remains to be seen but it has however, said that it will spend £90million to test ideas to improve journeys. This includes reviewing and exploring e-scooters, along with other forms of micromobility to see if they should be allowed on our public highways[source], as disclosed in Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy.
The DoT acknowledge that the laws from the 1800s need examination and are providing a barrier to innovation[source]. The review will look at new models of transport and how they can be safe by design, be accessible to society, lead the transition to zero emissions and make space on the roads[source].
Change feels like it is coming especially when practical implementations start to spring up; the first legal electric scooter route opened in London’s Olympic Park this year. It was able to happen because the land is private.
And when demand also shifts, that’s when you know change is coming; in a recent survey nearly 40% said they agreed e-scooters should be legalised for use beyond private land[source]. After a bumper year for e-bike sales in 2019 (between 50,000-60,000 were bought) which are further forecasted to rise in 2020[source], there is no reason to believe why e-scooters wouldn’t follow a similar pattern, if and when the law is changed.
If you are to be prosecuted for riding an e-scooter illegally, or you are to face prosecution for a more serious offence involving an e-scooter, then is advisable to seek the representation of a solicitor. We have a great deal of experience in representing road traffic and other criminal offences. Please call us on 020 7837 3456 day or night or for more information please contact Jonathan Black or James Skelsey.
*The online poll was conducted across 500 adults across the UK