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Should the legal introduction of e-scooters on the roads raise concerns about their safety?

View profile for Simon Pimlott
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First posted 03 July 2020

Until recently it has been illegal to use an e-scooter on Great Britain’s roads. From Saturday, 4 July 2020 it has been permissible to use rental e-scooters on the public roads, although it will remain illegal to use privately owned e-scooters on the public highways.  E-scooters can be ridden on any road except a motorway   To hire and use e-scooter, a rider must have either a provisional or full driving licence. 

Middlesbrough became the first town in the country to trial e-scooters, with the objective of easing pressure on public transport. The initial reaction from the local population was positive.  They will cost £2 to hire for 20 minutes.

Government in favour of E-Scooters

The intention of the government in introducing rental e-scooter schemes is commendable with the hope that it will reduce crowding on public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic and minimise the risk of the virus spreading. E-scooters are also promoted as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective form of transport for shorter journeys, providing a green alternative to an over-crowded transport system.

Users will not be expected to have insurance but will be required to hold at least a provisional driving licence. A speed limit has been introduced for the rental e-scooters at 15.5 mph (25kph) and there is a recommendation for users to wear helmets (although not compulsory). However, concerns  remain that the initiative has been implemented without a full appreciation of the risks that will arise from their introduction to the roads.

Campaigners warn that the introduction of rental e-scooters will be a prelude to private individuals starting to take their own e-scooters on to the roads and also, potentially, illegally using the pavements.

E-scooter Safety Concerns

There are concerns that e-scooters could create a significant obstruction for pedestrians, with a particular worry that they will create a hazard for the disabled and especially those with impaired vision navigating roads and pavements. Charities have pointed to the absence of engine noise from the e-scooters making their presence hard to detect, together with the weight, acceleration capabilities and the permitted speed of the e-scooters adding to the risk of injury.

For those using the e-scooters, the inadequate road infrastructure and lack of segregation from other motorised traffic on busy roads has been identified as a safety risk. Critics have pointed to the risk of inexperienced riders of e-scooters on busy inner-city roads, vulnerable to traffic and exposed to the risk of serious injury. 

Indeed, this has been illustrated in the early stages of the trial in the Tees Valley area. In July 2020 Cleveland police said that they stopped two teenagers on the A19 to Teeside, on 16 July. The teenagers, who had hired scooters, were stopped as they were using them along a busy dual carriageway.

The police also reported that neither boy was wearing protective equipment, such as helmets or high visibility clothing, as recommended by government guidelines. As Temporary Superintendent Graham Milne said, “hiring e-scooters may seem like a bit of fun for some, but they’re not toys”. Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen described the teenagers as “idiots”.

It was reported in September 2020 that Julian Thomas, a grandfather, from Wales,was killed when his e-scooter crashed into a parked car. He was found collapsed in the road and by the time health professionals arrived, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

In January 2021 Kyah Jordan was convicted of drink-driving, while using an e-scooter. It was reported that she was nearly 3 times over the legal limit at the time of going through a red light and nearly crashing into an unmarked please vehicle. She was banned from driving, for two years, at a hearing at Newport Magistrates Court, on the Isle of Wight.

The pilot has subsequently been rolled out to Milton Keynes, Northampton, Birmingham and Coventry. The scheme is to be extended to York, Cambridge,, Peterborough, Oxford, Liverpool, Norwich and Wolvehampton. Coventry became the first city to suspend a scheme, due to safety concerns. The rental of e-scooters was paused after users were seen mounting the pavement and riding in shopping areas. One lady reported that she was almost “knocked over by about four of these in the space of five minutes on Friday night”. Another person said, “I was nearly ran over twice today as people on scooters are using pedestrianised areas and being reckless”.

The Times reported in September 2020 that the company behind e-scooters in Coventry and in at least 12 other cities will instal identification plates to ensure the scooters and riders can be tracked in the event of an incident. The plates will be on the back and front of scooters and will consist of 5 digits.

In October 2019 France introduced rules to regulate e-scooters after a number of deaths and serious injuries involving riders. They were banned on most pavements and on country roads.

To increase safety, it was announced in Autumn 2020 that police would carry out spot checks on electric scooter riders to prevent them being used by drunks or on pavements. Users can be fined £300 and have 6 points added to their licence for offences.

Real risk of Serious Injury

Another concern arises from the poor condition of the surface of many roads and the danger that the small wheels of the e-scooter will be unable to cope with the many potholes that are prevalent on the country’s roads. It is not inconceivable that riders could be thrown from their e-scooter on striking a pothole on a poorly maintained road, placing them at risk of serious injury. This raises the wider question of whether sufficient resources are being invested into road maintenance at a time of increasing levels of traffic.    Significant and serious injury, particularly brain injury may also arise from riders not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as helmets and high visibility clothing.

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