E-scooters – the truth about how legal and safe they are


By Simon Hammond, Partner in our Edinburgh office

A menace to society or helping save the environment? A fun toy or an illegal and dangerous mode of transport?

The rise of the e-scooter appears to have created a polarity of opinion for politicians, lawyers, town planners and, perhaps most importantly, the public.

Are e-scooters legal?

Let’s set the legal record straight: e-scooters are not illegal. People are legally allowed to own an e-scooter – but like many things, it is what you do with it, that can be illegal and here the law has been too slow.

The reason e-scooters are treated differently from pedestrians, cyclists or other non-vehicular road users is because they are ensnared by the same rules that regulate cars. Why? Because they are motorised. They are not an exception like mobility scooters nor do they have a separate regime like e-bikes.

Are e-scooters allowed on pavements? Well, the unfortunate consequence of the law lagging behind means that to ride an e-scooter on the pavement is treated the same as doing so with a car, you are not allowed.

Why can’t I just ride my e-scooter on the road then?

Because like with a car, to ride an e-scooter on the road you need insurance, road tax, a driving licence and compliance with vehicle construction regulations.

Not so simple.

At the moment you are only allowed to ride e-scooters on private land – with land owners permission.

But things are moving forwards. In 2020 the Government passed a law allowing e-scooters to be trialled in various UK towns and cities. This also set out a definition of an e-scooter including them having a 15.5mph speed limit.

Are e-scooters safe?

The law aside, what’s the big deal with e-scooters?

Ultimately, the issue lies with the societal concept of taking a traditional child’s toy and turning it into a serious mode of transport.

E-bikes cause very little fuss as they have speed limits and pedal bikes have been used on the road network since day dot. Pedestrians and cars also have their accepted place on the roads and pavements.

E-scooters are different. Traditional non-motorised scooters were not designed for the road and no one thinks twice when a child rides one on the pavement. E-scooters, however, are bigger and faster and regularly ridden by adults as a form of transport. As with the law, they are yet to find their place in society. Their illegality causes people to frown upon them; the immediate conclusion drawn is that the rider must be reckless and up to no good.

Insurance is another thorny issue. On the pavement e-scooters are far more likely to injure pedestrians and given their size, weight and speed it is wise to keep them on the road.

But on the road they become far more vulnerable. Cars require compulsory insurance to protect the potential injuries suffered by other road users. So where do e-scooters fit in? Should they be insured like a car or uninsured like bikes and e-bikes?

Appropriate insurance appears sensible in order to protect all road users; insurance is currently provided as part of the trials. However, in the long term will the cost of buying insurance for riders as well as the cost of regulating insurance for the state be too great a hurdle?

That is the age-old issue with bikes with the desire for mass participation trumping burdensome regulation. Either way the position needs to be clarified sooner than later for e-scooters.

Are e-scooters too dangerous?

Thankfully, serious injuries from accidents involving e-scooters are rare. To date there have been two known fatalities: one in 2019 and another very recently in June 2020, neither under the trials.

As the trials proceed, accidents are inevitable as e-scooters are being pushed to share the roads with bigger vehicles.

The 15.15mph speed limit will help, as will ongoing education and awareness of both riders and other road users. In the end there is no reason why they cannot share the road as equals with cars and bikes.