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Regulating Electric Scooters (e-scooters)

Published by the House of Commons Library, this paper provides an overview of the existing legal framework for electric scooters (e-scooters). It also analyses the arguments for and against legalising e-scooters on UK roads, drawing on the limited evidence from other countries and cities that have sanctioned their use.

It recognises that micromobility devices – such as electric scooters (e-scooters) – could help to solve the urban transport challenge of poor air quality stemming from increased congestion. However, they are currently banned from UK roads and pavements. Since 4 July, local areas have been able to run e-scooter rental trials, for use on roads, cycle lanes and tracks only, for up to 12 months. The trial end date has been extended to Spring 2022. The paper includes more detail on the trials.

Legal status of e-scooters

While it is legal to buy or sell an e-scooter (classed as a battery-powered personal transport device), riding them on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes is against the law. Riders could face a £300 fine and six points on their licence if they use them on public roads or pavements. Riding e-scooters on private land is legal with the landowner’s permission.

The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 (SI 2020/663) provide the legislative basis for the e-scooter trials. They define ‘e-scooters’ and amend road traffic regulations to exempt e-scooters being used in a trial from certain requirements of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Even in local authority areas which decide to run trials, it will still be illegal to ride a privately owned (non-trial) e-scooter on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes.

Views differ on the potential benefits and problems presented by e-scooters. Some believe that they offer solutions to a wide range of transport policy goals (such as reducing pollution, congestion), while others believe that they are potentially dangerous and may undermine messaging about active travel and green transport.

Three of the key issues are:

  • Journey replacement for cars, public transport and other modes: E-scooters could help cut congestion and improve air quality in urban areas. In cities that allow e-scooters, it is not clear whether e-scooter trips have replaced car journeys. Rather, some are concerned they have replaced trips that would otherwise be walked, cycled, taken by kick scooters or by public transport. This would negate both the supposed congestion-alleviating benefits and could have negative health impacts, through reduced physical activity.

  • Tackling climate change: Proponents of e-scooters suggest they can help cut everyday carbon emissions by getting people out of their cars. However, several studies suggest the short lifespan of e-scooters means these carbon savings may be minimal, if achieved at all.

  • Safety concerns: Stakeholders have expressed concerns over: whether micromobility devices are physically robust and safe by design; whether users have the skills to use them safely; how they interact with other vehicles, road users and pedestrians; and how liability is handled when accidents occur.

The paper is available in full here. House of Commons Library May 2021

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