Navigating our archaic highway laws

We sift through archaic laws and divided opinion, to explain the current legal landscape of electric scooters in the UK and what can be expected from Westminster.

THE LOWDOWN

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!

ENVIRON-MENTAL

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

At the time of writing the original post for this blog, Department for Transport (DfT) had just announced that electric scooters were a part of its plans for the future of urban transport in United Kingdom. Since then, DfT has fast tracked trials of electric scooters in certain parts of U.K.

"E-scooters offer the potential for fast, clean and inexpensive travel that can also help ease the burden on transport networks and allow for social distancing."
- Department for Transport

The trials commenced between July and August of 2020, and are due to run for a period of 12 months (with a provision in the legal framework for the option of extending the trials). There are however some notable requirements that DfT have introduced, which are very important for any user to be aware of.

1. An e-scooter will continue to fall within the statutory definition of a motor vehicle. We will define the sub-category of an e-scooter as being a motor vehicle that:
  • 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 2 wheels, 1 front and 1 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 a power control that defaults to the ‘off’ position

2. There are 2 requirements in primary legislation that will continue to apply to e-scooters:
  • E-scooters in trials need to be covered by a motor vehicle insurance policy - it is understood rental operators will ensure a policy is in place that covers users of the vehicles.
  • E-scooter users need to have a valid driving licence.

3. Electric scooters would be allowed on the road (except motorways) and in cycle lanes and tracks, where possible. However, the exact controls over where e-scooters can be used are split between central government and local authorities. So in case you are in one of trial-areas and wish to try out an electric scooter, we suggest that you contact your local authority to find out the exact rules that are in force.

4. There is no change to status quo when it comes to privately owned electric scooters and they continue to remain illegal to operate on anywhere other than on private property. Whilst this is disappointing to say the least, we are actively campaigning for a change and remain hopeful that it will come sooner rather than later.

For more information on the trials, please click here.

 

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.

Our friends over at Egret have been typically quick to get onboard and updated their Ten V3 and Eight V4 models to support the ability to affix the plates to be compliant with the new regulations.

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.