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E-scooters - what's legal & what's not

Posted: 20 August 2021

Marketed as good for the environment and a safe way to travel in post pandemic England, the e-scooter has suddenly become a common sight in most areas of the country. However, currently only the e-scooters involved in the government trials are legal to ride on English roads. Each city which has opted for a trial works with a rental company, which supplies the scooters. The data that is collected is then fed back to the government, to help decision-making surrounding legislation when the trials end.

E-scooters provided within trial areas have maximum speed limits of 15.5mph, or 8mph in some specifically designated 'go-slow' areas in London. With trial areas they are geofenced so they will stop working if taken outside of the area, or if they enter "go slow areas" their speed will be reduced. The maximum speed limit is 15.5mph although this has been reduced to 12.5mph for the London trials, which started in London on 7 June 2021.

As the trials have progressed across the country many of the providers have reduced the top speeds down to 12.5mph, with Bournemouth reducing the speed on its promenade to 3mph between 10am - 6pm for the duration of the summer.

Anyone wishing to hire an e-scooter in the trial must be over 16 and have at least a provisional driving license with category Q entitlement. Helmet wearing is recommended but not a requirement, although some providers are offering reduced ride costs if proof of wearing a helmet is uploaded to their app. In some European cities insurers have tied in with scooter providers to provide free helmets if safety courses are undertaken.

All trial scooters come with motor insurance, with the rental company providing the cover as part of the rental. The scooters remain classified as motor vehicles, hence the insurance cover being provided for the trials. Therefore riders can be charged with drink and drug riding offences, for careless and dangerous driving and receive penalty points for jumping red lights, using a mobile phone, riding on a pavement or surpassing an e-scooter speed limit.

There have been a number of reports of riders being prosecuted and losing their license when caught riding whilst drunk. A curfew on use was introduced in Newcastle after a number of students were stopped shortly after trials started and were found to be intoxicated. Other providers have introduced sobriety tests.

Originally meant to end summer 2021 the trials have now been extended to 31 March 2022 to ensure that the "most comprehensive evidence" is collated for the Government to make the decision as to whether e-scooters should be legalised.

Privately owned e-scooters remain legal to buy but illegal to ride on anything other than private land, and then only with the landowner's permission. However, the government trials have triggered an increase in the purchase of private scooters, with Halfords reporting a 184% increase in the sale of scooters year on year in November 2020.

184% increase in the sale of e-scooters year on year in November 2020.

Privately owned e-scooters are also classified as "personal light electric vehicles" (PLEV). These therefore require a driving license, insurance, a helmet, paid road tax and a registration plate, none of which can currently be obtained and therefore the scooters remain classified as unroadworthy. If caught riding one on a road or in another public space, a rider can face an on-the-spot fine of £300 and up to 6 penalty points on their licence for riding without insurance, along with the possibility of the scooter being confiscated. 

As with the trial scooters, the drink, drug, careless and dangerous driving offences also all apply.

Due to the prevelance of trial scooters many people are now buying e-scooters, which retailers are perfectly entitled to sell, but whether the person buying the e-scooter realises they can't use it anywhere other than their own property or that of a friend is open to question. Some websites give no warnings and information in store can be very small print.

E-bikes, in comparison to e-scooters are relatively straightforward as they are not classified as motor vehicles but are instead "EAPC" (electrically assisted pedal cycles) if they meet the following criteria:

  • The electric assistance can only be provided to a maximum of 15.5mph
  • The motor used must be no more than 250 watts
  • The e-bike's pedals must be in motion for motor assistance to be provided
  • The rider must be 14 years of age or over.

If an electric bike doesn't meet these criteria then they may fit other categories which classify them as motor vehicles, and in fact see them as mopeds. If it does fit the above criteria then the rules are the same as for a standard bicycle; insurance is not required, they can be ridden where bikes can and a helmet is not required, but again is recommened.

When the government e-scooter trials finish next year and the legislation of e-scooters is reviewed, it is believed that the government may plump for a similar approach to e-bikes i.e. lower age limit, restricted speed and wattage. The main question for all involved is whether, to afford appropriate protection to other road users, there will be a minimum insurance requirement for e-scooters. The government could opt for an option imilar to Germany where insurance is provided at the point of sale. However, with another 10 months of data to be collated, an increasing number of accidents being reported in the trials and reports of a number of deaths of riders of illegal e-scooters, it is clear this is not a straightforward decision and the final position should be based on what the data reveals.