EXPLAINING THE LAWS ON ELECTRIC SCOOTERS IN THE UK
Written by Ed Wiles, Scootered Founder
There has been some confusion over the last year or two about the legality of e-scooters (and Segways and hoverboards), and what specific laws make them illegal on public roads, so the Department for Transport clarified in August 2019 that e-scooters are classed as "powered transporters" - not Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs) as often claimed - and that they are illegal to ride on public roads because they fail to meet certain requirements, and not because of the 1835 Highways Act, which only prevents them from being ridden on pavements. It seems the term PLEV was never in fact used by the Department for Transport, only the EU legislature.
What Is A Powered Transporter?
Well, pretty much anything that the Government (Department for Transport) cannot classify as something else. They state that it includes "e-scooters, Segways, hoverboards, go-peds, powered unicycles, and u-wheels". Firstly, it has to have its own source of power (even if that is produced by kinetic energy) and must transport you (in case you buy a vehicle incapable of transporting you). Thus any battery powered scooter is considered to be a powered transporter. Of course, it is a fairly arbitrary name because, literally speaking, cars and trains are also powered transporters. Maybe Personal Light Electric Vehicle was a better name all along (see below).
e-Scooters Are Powered Transporters
How Are Powered Transporters Treated Differently From Motor Vehicles?
Up until July 2020, they weare not treated any differently. And that, folks, was the problem. To use a motor vehicle - and powered transporters are classed as motor vehicles - the rider must have insurance (for the vehicle), vehicle tax, be licensed (to drive a motor vehicle) and the vehicle itself must be registered with the DVLA and have a current MOT certificate. None of this would theoretically be a problem (though good luck finding an insurer) but to pass an MOT a motor vehicle must have certain things, such as indicators and a rear light. It is clear, then, that to solve the current impasse powered transporters need to be reclassified as something other than motor vehicles. In July 2020, the UK Government announced it would (almost immediately) legalise the riding or e-scooters as long as they are hired form an authorised company (such as Bird and Lime).
So What Are Personal Light Electric Vehicles?
So What Are Personal Light Electric Vehicles?
This phrase has been used a lot on the Internet but has never (officially) been used by the Department for Transport or any of its associated bodies (such as the DVLA). It seems that someone somewhere claimed that e-scooters were classed as PLEVs and everyone else assumed they were right because it sounded like an official term. The term is sometimes used by the EU legislature when it translates something into English regarding e-scooters (or Segways) after another EU country changes its laws to allow for them. For instance, Germany recently changed its laws and called them, literally, "Electric Mini Vehicles" but this was translated into "Personal Light Electric Vehicles" by the translator. So, basically, everyone has taken the lead of some random EU translator.
What About the 1835 Highway Act?
This has been the source of much confusion. But the 1835 Highway Act is not the main problem. The relevant part is Section 72, and simply states that vehicles cannot ride on pavements. Generally speaking, that is not a problem. However, it might be sensible to amend it so that powered transporters capable of a top-speed not exceeding 8 mph are allowed on the pavement. This same amendment has been introduced in Germany. Though I admit it would be difficult to police and I cannot see many adults wanting to buy such a limited e-scooter, it may be sensible for hire schemes and children. However, in reality, how often are cyclists prosecuted for riding on pavements? For me, it is a question of commons sense: if you are causing a nuisance to pedestrians, then you should not be on the pavement.
More Key Points
Are e-Scooters More Dangerous Than Bicycles?
The question of the relative safety of e-scooters is covered in greater detail in this post. Studies in America during 2018 suggest that there was approximately one fatal injury (death) for every 9.6 million e-scooter rides and one non-fatal injury for every 5,000 rides. The figures for cycling in England suggest there is one fatal injury for every 10.2 million bicycle rides and one injury for about every 50,000 bicycle rides. This suggests a greater chance of injury (by a factor of 10) riding an e-scooter compared with riding a bike but little difference (6%) in the risk of death. The e-scooter results covered four deaths, three of which happened at night, all of which were known or thought to have involved a motor vehicle (a proper one), and one of which resulted in the imprisonment of a car driver for being high on drugs: hard to blame the e-scooter for that one. None of those who died riding an e-scooter were wearing helmets.
The greater risk of non-fatal injury was shown to be mostly down to a lack of rider experience, with alcohol and the lack of helmets also being indicated; while the discrepancy between the increased risk of injury against fatality suggests that you are less likely to die if you are involved in a collision while riding an e-scooter (despite being less likely to be wearing a helmet). One explanation for this may be the greater ability for an e-scooter rider to jump off - to relative safety - when they are involved in a potentially deadly accident.
It is clear that momentum is with e-scooters and their legalisation but, as of July 2020, only e-scooters hired from licensed rental companies (such as Bird and Lime) are legal to ride on public highways, while privately owned e-scooters cannot be ridden anywhere but private land. This is expected to change before the end of 2020. However, exactly how police are going to police this stopgap law remains to be seen. I would expect that they pay no attention to e-scooters, though there is always the chance there will be a brief crackdown.
More detail and explanation about e-scooter safety can be found in the longer post Are Electric Scooters Safe?