E-scooters are becoming more common on the UK’s roads. Seen as a sustainable alternative to car travel they are being backed by governments across the world as a means to tackle congestion and reduce carbon emissions in towns and cities.
As a relatively new means of transport and with some public concern about the possibility of accidents, there is still confusion about their legality.
What exactly is their current legal status and where can they be used?
What is an e-scooter?
E-scooter is an abbreviation of ‘electric scooter’. As with manual scooters they generally have two wheels (some swap the single back wheel for a pair of smaller wheels), but unlike manual scooters they are propelled along by a motor. They have grown in popularity over recent years, particularly in many continental European cities. They are portable, straightforward to use and can be an efficient means of transport, particularly when travelling relatively short distances in urban areas.
E-scooters are increasingly being sponsored by national and local governments as an environmentally-friendly means of transport. It’s hoped that more widespread adoption could help tackle congestion and reduce carbon emissions. The UK government is currently trialing a number of scooter-sharing schemes. These work like bicycle rental schemes and are popular in Europe, allowing those who want to ride to hire the e-scooter for their chosen time period.
Are personal e-scooters legal?
More people in the UK are purchasing privately owned e-scooters. These are still illegal to use on roads, pavements and cycle lanes, a fact many owners are unaware of until they are challenged by the police. Currently, e-scooters are classified as “powered transporters”. This means they’re covered by the same legislation as motor vehicles.
For them to be allowed out in public they would need to meet the same standards under the Road Traffic Act 1988 as other vehicles. This would include being registered with the DVLA and taxed. It’s possible that this categorisation could change over time, putting them in the same category as e-bikes, which currently have the same legal status as regular pedal cycles.
A privately owned e-scooter in the UK can currently only legally be ridden on private land with the landowner’s permission. In order to be able to do this you don’t need to have any kind of license or insurance. This essentially means that if you purchase an e-scooter the only place you can use it legally is on your own property, or on the property of a friend or associate who allows you access.
Are city centre rental scooters insured?
The Department of Transport (DfT) is working with city mayors and local authorities to launch shared-scooter trials in a number of towns and cities across the UK. This programme has been expanding considerably over recent months and looks to be gathering momentum. Although there has been some pushback due to safety concerns, the government looks invested in the trials as a means by which to change the rules around e-scooter use.
The proposed changes to electric scooter road rules are part of a Future Transport initiative. The Department of Transport is proposing that both privately owned and rental e-scooters are legalised for use on public roads.
During these trials it is compulsory for all e-scooters to have motor insurance and for their users to have a full driving license. An electric scooter speed limit has been set at 15.5mph. This insurance is currently arranged by the rental operator.
Operating companies and sustainable transport campaigners argue that e-scooters are actually closer to cycles rather than motorised vehicles, and that compulsory insurance could make them less accessible and appealing.
Currently, cyclists do not have to have any form of insurance but many opt for third party Public Liability Insurance. This gives them peace of mind against any claims made by other parties in the event of accidents or injury caused by the cyclist or their bike. A similar insurance model could develop as e-scooters become more widely available.
Can you ride e-scooters on the road?
Presently, you cannot use a privately owned e-scooter legally on UK roads. You can, however, use an e-scooter on the road if you rent it via one of the trial rental schemes that are currently running in UK towns and cities. To do so you will need to be at least 16 years of age and be in possession of a full driving licence. The speed limit for use on the road is 15.5mph.
There is a strong possibility that the laws surrounding e-scooter use will be liberalised following on from successful trials.
Are there concerns around misuse?
There are a number of concerns regarding the misuse of the e-scooters. Most of these concern the safety of other road users and pedestrians. In 2019 the UK recorded its first e-scooter related death, 35-year television presenter and YouTube personality Emily Hartridge, who died in a collision with a lorry.
In areas where rental trials are taking place the police will be willing to use fines and penalty points for e-scooter misuse. Because they’re classified as powered transporters and fall under the Road Traffic Act 1988, the range of possible offences are the same as when driving a motor vehicle. These include riding on the pavement, using a mobile phone, going over the speed limit or jumping a red light.
If you’re caught using a privately owned e-scooter on public roads, pavements or cycle path, you could be liable for a £300 fine and 6 points on your licence. It could also mean that you have your scooter confiscated.