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Industry drivers fear growth of e-scooters

16 Jul 20 Parts of the construction industry have expressed grave concerns about the government considering making e-scooters legal on UK roads.

Image Marco Verch (creative commons 2.0)
Image Marco Verch (creative commons 2.0)

While Segways and hover boards are not road legal in the UK (and Segways have now gone out of production), the Department for Transport is interested in allowing e-scooters to be used and has sanctioned trials of rental schemes.

The department carried out a consultation on the topic ‘Future of Mobility’, outlining the government’s approach to maximising the benefits from transport innovation in urban areas.

The Mineral Products Association (MPA), whose members include quarrying companies that deliver heavy building materials in big lorries, responded to the consultation with a strong call for e-scooters to be banned from shared roads, and not legalised.

The MPA and its members have put in a lot of work over the last decade to improve safe transportation of its products without their HGVs hitting pedestrians and cyclists. Visibility from vehicle cabs has been improved, and technology such as cameras, sensors and alerts have been widely adopted to make vulnerable roads users more visible.

But the MPA fears that micro-mobility devices such as e-scooters are much more vulnerable than bicycles.

MPA director of public affairs Robert McIlveen said: “Compared to bicycles, e-scooters are less visible, less stable and less able to cope with potholes and other road hazards. MPA and our members have worked hard over the years promoting shared road safety and we believe that introducing new, more dangerous types of vehicle is neither safe nor sensible.”

An e-scooter is an electric powered version of those familiar two-wheeled boards with a vertical steering stick at the front and a handlebar. For the purposes of legislation, the Department for Transport has produced a more thorough definition.

‘Electric scooter’ means a motor vehicle that:

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  • is fitted with no motor other than an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W and is not fitted with pedals that are capable of propelling the vehicle
  • is designed to carry no more than one person
  • has a maximum speed not exceeding 15.5 mph
  • has two wheels, one front and one rear, aligned along the direction of travel
  • has a mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55kg
  • has means of directional control via the use of handlebars that are mechanically linked to the steered wheel
  • has means of controlling the speed via hand controls and whose power control defaults to the ‘off’ position

Regulations permitting the use of rental scooters came into effect on 4th July. Trials will last 12 months to assess their safety.

The battery-powered scooters will be prohibited on pavements and limited to 15.5mph on the roads – the DfT recommends that all riders wear helmets.

Those taking part in the trials will need a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence and must be aged at least 16 – privately owned scooters will not be permitted.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said: "E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things."

The law as it stands

There have been several recent cases relating to novelty powered transporters. Here are three of them.

DPP v Saddington - [2000] EWHC Admin 409

The High Court found that a Go-Ped, which is a scooter powered by an internal combustion engine, was a motor vehicle in the statutory framework. Mr Saddington was therefore required by law to have a driving licence and third party insurance when using one on the road.

Winter v DPP - [2002] EWHC 1524 (Admin)

The High Court considered the use of a ‘City Bug’ electric scooter, and whether its user was bound by the compulsory insurance requirements. It found that it was and that the appellant had been properly convicted of the offence of driving a vehicle without insurance.

Coates v Crown Prosecution Service - [2011] EWHC 2032 (Admin)

The High Court considered the situation of Segways in the statutory framework. It found that the appellant had been properly convicted under the Highway Act 1835 of “riding” on the footway, or of “driving or leading a carriage” on the footway. The Segway was a carriage either by analogy to other forms of carriage (like bicycles) or because it was a motor vehicle, which by operation of statute is a carriage.

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