We sift through archaic laws and divided opinion, to explain the legal landscape of electric scooters in the UK and what can be expected from Westminster.
The crux of the argument is that the Road Traffic Act of 1988, legislates that an electric scooter rider must hold a valid driver's licence, valid insurance, a helmet and pay road tax.
Surely that sounds reasonable? Well don't get your hopes up as there is a big catch here. In order to insure and tax any vehicle for use on UK roads, one must first register it with the DVLA. The issue here is that the DVLA considers electric scooters unfit for the roads and hence will not register them or provide you with a licence to use one.
Suffice to say, e-scooters are indeed illegal on UK roads, as of writing this article.
In short, one can only ride their electric scooter on private property (obviously with the express permission of the land owner).
Electric scooters are currently classed as a Personal Light Electric Vehicle or PLEV for short. DVLA has set lower bounds on power and speed, which effectively means that any PLEV cannot be registered. It would be far more reasonable to look at aspects of the electric scooter such as motor sizes, brakes and top speed limitations. However, making the whole vehicle illegal to use is a confounding measure.
THE SAFETY ARGUMENT
Despite the opposing narrative, there isn't yet any evidence to suggest that riding an e-scooter is any more dangerous than riding a pedal bike. While naysayers will argue that the jury is still out, research shows that bicycles with 10-20 gears have the potential to go much faster than the 20-mph top speed of an e-scooter. Yet we have welcomed the shift to pedal bikes with open arms (mostly).
In addition, electric bikes (or as the cool kids at DVLA refer to them - "EAPC") are considered to be perfectly legal and you can easily register one with them. DVLA’s reason - because they have pedals (UK Gov's electric bike rules). That’s like telling a rock band that they are allowed to play an electric guitar as it has 6 strings, yet the electric bass is illegal because it has only 4!
To achieve the UK Government's target by 2050, it is blatantly obvious that electric scooters will have a crucial role to play.
With the transportation industry in the UK currently the biggest emitter of Greenhouse gases, accounting for over a third of all emissions, we wonder how long the UK Government can maintain it's staunch position on the legality of electric scooters, before common sense prevails.
A CHANGE IS COMING
There has been plenty of groundswell of support for a change however. Steadily, more people are mobilising and fighting to change these archaic laws and we urge our community to sign one of the various petitions, such as the official UK Parliament one or the one over at Change.org, both of which have prompted the Department for Transport (DfT) to include electric scooters as a 'micromobility' option in a major, wide-ranging review of the future of urban transport.
New technologies and trends mean vehicle designs are changing radically, with ever more options for people to choose how they travel. This is particularly true for the micromobility sector, where we are seeing the rapid development of vehicles such as electric scooters and skateboards, low powered last mile delivery solutions and a blurring of previously long established vehicle definitions.
As well as identifying basic parameters for safe design and operation of new vehicles such as electric scooters, the aim will be to enable future trials of innovative ideas without the need to change legislation each time. This work may lead to new definitions of vehicles to enable wider use of micromobility.
— Department for Transport (Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy (published 19 Mar 2019))
AND THE REST OF THE WORLD?
In Germany, the BMVI (the German DVLA equivalent) have taken a super-sensible approach and legalised electric scooters on Cycle paths. They have placed certain restrictions, such as the rider must be at least 14 years old, the scooter must have a handle, it must not go faster than 20 km/h and that it must have an insurance plate.
In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority has created very pragmatic rules, legalising the use of electric scooters. A Personal Mobility Device, or a PMD (their classification for an electric scooter), can go up to 25 km/h on shared paths and up to 10 km/h on footpaths. Owners are also required by law to register their electric scooters with an online database and subsequently put a mark of the said registration on their PMD.
Electric scooters have been such a hit in the United States, that they spawned off an entire short-term-rental industry with companies such as Bird, Lime, Spin etc. proving a huge hit with the masses.
In Copenhagen, the Danish authorities simply want an electric scooter rider to be over 15 years of age, wear a helmet, have the front lights switched on at all times and have a yellow reflective sticker on the back. Sunny Spain too, has legalised the electric scooter in their cycle lanes. Ride with elan and get that tan!
In France, PLEVs have been legalised to be ridden in cycle lanes with a max speed of 25 km/h. Most of the states in Australia have either legalised or started trials (with a view to regulate and legalise) electric scooters within their territories. Finland, Austria and Switzerland have also followed suit, and we are sure the list wouldn't stop here.
It's high time that the UK Government got its act together and came up with sensible regulations for legalising electric scooters within the UK.