Over a year has passed since rental e-scooters were first permitted on public roads in England and there is no doubt that they have become an increasingly common sight. However, concerns that were raised by safety groups at the time of their first trial in Middlesbrough last year have not been alleviated, particularly as the number of accidents involving e-scooters soar.
The Times recently reported on the second tragic death of a young man who died while riding his privately owned e-scooter following a collision with a car. This is one tragic example of the increasing number of accidents involving e-scooters. Research by the ITV Tonight programme in June 2021 revealed that there have been 210 reported incidents involving e-scooters resulting in injury.
In Berlin, where an e-scooter scheme has been in operation for a few years, a recent study revealed some alarming facts. Alcohol was a factor in one-fifth of the e-scooters accidents and approximately 15% of those injured while riding an e-scooter suffered a traumatic brain injury. However, only 1% of e-scooter riders used a helmet.
The introduction of the London e-scooter scheme
Fears that there will be a sharp increase in accidents and injuries in this country have been voiced again following the introduction of an e-scooter scheme in London in June 2021. This allows licenced operators to rent e-scooters capable of speeds up to 15.5 mph to the public. This government backed scheme is seen as a means of encouraging city workers and commuters to take up what is viewed as a fast, clean and inexpensive mode of transport. The Government has indicated that the trials will be reviewed with a decision anticipated in 2022 on whether to fully legalise e-scooter use.
The concerns, though, do not focus entirely on the e-scooter schemes. Privately owned e-scooters are prevalent in our public spaces even though it remains illegal to use them on roads, pavements, parks or anywhere outside private property. The illegal use of privately owned e-scooters has resulted in over 800 of them being seized by police in London in 2021. Calls are increasing in volume from safety groups for the ban in the sale of e-scooters to individuals, particularly as evidence suggests there is a growing use by children. But it is not just the rider that is vulnerable to injury as many incidents involve injury to pedestrians struck by an e-scooter. Those with disability are particularly vulnerable and this has led to calls for strong enforcement measures to prevent their use on pavements.
What is the future for e-scooters?
Despite these concerns, the direction of travel seems to be that e-scooters are here to stay as their use is being actively encouraged by government. The expectation is that the scheme will be rolled out to other London boroughs over the next year.
A cross-party group of MP’s has recommended that the use of e-scooters, both privately owned and rental, should be made fully legal on public roads, with the expectation that local authorities will set the speeds limits and not central government. As unregulated e-scooters have the potential to reach speeds up to 60mph there is anxiety that there will be a steady creep upwards in the maximum speed limited permitted on the road.
What is the Government view of e-scooters?
The committee of MP’s sees the wider use of e-scooters as a means of helping those from poorer background to increase their mobility, improving journey times in overly congested city centres and creating an alternative means of delivery service, so reducing the reliance on vans and mopeds. Manufacturers have also argued that e-scooters can lead to an improvement in mental health, but this is countered by arguments that there are negative health effects if the amount of time people spending walking and cycling is reduced.
Will financial cost and the law limit the growth in e-scooters?
The cost of e-scooters does not appear to be an obvious barrier to the rise in their use. With most priced below £1,000 and cheaper models available at little more than £100, the pricing is likely to encourage a mass market if the legal restrictions to private e-scooters is removed. As for rental e-scooters, the price for the London scheme is typically £1 to unlock an e-scooter (using a smartphone app) and an additional a fee of 14p-20p per minute. With the public desire for cheaper, greener and convenient transport, it seems very possible that we will see a boom in e-scooter use in the next few years.
As matters stand, the regulations and law around e-scooters could not be considered rigorous or specific. There remains no legal requirement for protective helmets, although this is recommended. They do not always have visible rear lights, registration plates or a signalling function. Riders of rented e-scooters are only required to hold a provisional driving licence and so the most inexperienced of road users are entitled to ride them without any assessment of their capabilities.
The Department for Transport has indicated that they expect some training to be provided by rental firms but the nature of this training has not been specified or mandated. To its credit, the London scheme requires the user to undertake an online course before they are allowed to rent an e-scooter.
What are the other legal restrictions on the use of e-scooters?
Following the amendment to the Traffic Signs Regulations 2016, rented e-scooters are permitted to use cycle lanes and shared spaces such as pedestrian/cycle pavements but not pedestrian only pavements. This poses an additional risk to those sharing the cycle lanes/pavements. These electric vehicles do not emit a distinctive noise, making them difficult to hear when approaching. This risk is even greater for blind pedestrians and The Royal National Institute for the Blind has expressed serious concerns about the danger e-scooters pose to blind pedestrians.
There is a legal requirement for rented e-scooters in public places to have insurance cover. However, there is already calls for this requirement to be removed by those who point to electric bikes, whose users are not required to have insurance. Without insurance, where does that leave those injured by an e-scooter rider if they wish to bring a compensation claim?
Will we see an increase in personal injury claims involving e-scooters?
The answer seems, almost inevitably, yes. E-scooters have already been involved in fatalities on our roads, including the death of TV presenter Emily Hartridge in London last year while riding an e-scooter. The e-scooter itself provides very little protection to the rider if struck by another vehicle and with little uptake in the use of helmets, there is considerable risk of serious injury. The popularity of e-scooters with the young, who might have no more than a provisional licence and little road use experience, raises the risk of injury even further. And for those struck by an e-scooter, such as pedestrians, cyclists and other e-scooter riders, the weight limit of 55kg for the scooter, a maximum power of 500W, travelling at 15mph, also has significant potential to cause serious injury.
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