Electronic scooters, or “e-scooters”, are finding an increased popularity in modern society today; you may have seen them in the news, or seen people using them as short-distance transport in various cities around the country, but did you ever stop to consider what the rules on them might be? Unlike electric bikes, or “e-bikes” (you may be spotting a pattern here), which have been legal in the UK for some 40 years, e-scooters are such a new phenomenon that the rules which govern them are not quite clear. So in the absence of further direction, where do we currently stand?

It should be noted that different rules apply to privately-owned e-scooters and public e-scooters designed for use as part of Government-backed transport schemes. Many metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Manchester have engaged in an e-scooter pilot scheme with the support of the Government. These schemes are outsourced to companies who allow you to rent a public e-scooter to travel around on; you can “unlock” the e-scooter through an app on your mobile phone and ride around in a designated, geo-locked area. The cost of the third party insurance is incorporated into the cost of the rental1 so as the user of the vehicle you are legally protected if an incident occurs. The same principle applies to being the driver of a car on the road, it is a legal requirement to have valid insurance to protect both yourself and those around you in the event of a collision.

The rules relating to privately-owned e-scooters also apply to many other e-powered devices including e-skateboards, Segways etc. In the absence of any specific legislation, e-scooters are governed by the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 1988) and are therefore considered to fall within the definition of “any motor vehicle intended for use on the road”. As with a car or a motorbike, any privately-owned e-scooter would need to meet road vehicle requirements including licence and registration, third party insurance etc. to be used on a public road. If, for example, you fail to obtain sufficient vehicle insurance prior to using a private e-scooter on a public road (and many insurance companies will refuse to provide insurance due to these concerns) then you may be found to be committing a criminal action and prosecuted for driving without insurance or driving without a valid licence. 

Similarly, as e-scooters fall within the definition of a motor vehicle under the RTA 1988, they are also prohibited from being ridden on public pavements. This is something you may want to be aware of prior to purchasing a very expensive private e-scooter, as if you are prohibited from riding it on public roads or pavements, then whizzing around on private land is currently your only legal option! 

So where does this leave you if an injury arises from an e-scooter related accident? Again it depends on public v private e-scooters and whether it is you or the other party who are at fault for the collision: 

If you suffer an injury

  • Publicly-Owned e-scooter (with valid insurance) If you suffer an injury caused by someone riding a publicly-owned e-scooter rented through one of the Government-supported schemes, then the third party insurance would be valid and you could proceed with bringing a claim for compensation against the rider and the insurer.
  • Privately-Owned e-scooter (without valid insurance)  If you suffer an injury caused by a secondary party whilst riding a privately-owned e-scooter on public roads, you may still be able to bring a personal injury claim but the defendant, or their insurer, are likely to argue that you were acting illegally or contributed to your own misfortune, and this would likely have a detrimental impact on your case. Additionally, the police may bring proceedings against you for the reasons set out above.

If you cause an injury

  • Publicly-Owned e-scooter (with valid insurance) If you cause an injury to someone whilst riding a publicly-owned e-scooter rented through one of the Government-supported schemes, then the third party insurance would be valid and the injured party would be able to bring a claim for compensation against you as the rider and your insurer.
  • Privately-Owned e-scooter (without valid insurance)  If you cause an injury to someone whilst riding a privately-owned e-scooter on public roads then the injured party would be able to bring a claim for compensation against you as the rider. Since there would be no valid motor insurance in place, the claim would likely proceed with the Motor Insurers' Bureau being brought in as a party in place of the insurer. Again, the police may bring proceedings against you for the reasons set out above.

As with many new areas of law, the legal position is constantly changing and until there is a set authority on the matter the above summary is the best understanding we have. As for the future of e-scooter law, reference was made to them in the 2022 Queen's Speech as part of the Government's proposed ‘Transport Bill'. Grant Shapps MP, the then Transport Minister, had recommended legalising and regulating vehicles such as e-scooters as part of a wider push towards more renewable forms of transport, however, that was a different Government at a different time. We await further guidance on this issue but until then, scoot safely and legally!

Footnote

1 well it should be, always best to check your T&C's with the rental provider prior to setting off!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.