To say that electric scooters divide opinion would be something of an understatement. It's probably fair to say that some people can be simultaneously both for and against e-scooters.
The pros and cons of E-scooters
On the one hand, e-scooters are a relatively inexpensive mode of transport. They don't need much maintenance as there's little to go wrong. They are ecologically friendly, with no CO2 or toxic-smelling emissions.
As a mode of transport, in towns and cities, the argument for e-scooters is particularly compelling; take a train into town, jump on an e-scooter, and you are at your office or meeting in no time. There are no queues, you're breathing in fresh-ish air (well fresher than the air in your car, anyway), and the stress levels are lower.
Anything more? Yes, they're a pretty funky mode of transport too!
However, on the other hand, there are cons.
At present, the only legal means of riding an e-scooter on a public road is by hiring one under one of the many government-led e-scooter hire trial schemes that have been running in cities throughout the country for almost three years.
Legally hired e-scooters may only be ridden on the road, not pavements.
Nevertheless, buying and privately owning an e-scooter is not illegal, and a lot of people have bought them. According to an article in the Guardian in April 2022 there were 750,000 private e-scooters in the UK. Since then, the figure is probably nearer to 1 million, the number believed to have been imported into the UK between 2018 and June 2022.
So, what are some of the problems surrounding e-scooter use?
- After use, many rental e-scooters get abandoned and are left lying on their sides, on pavements. You've probably seen them, often a few clumped together on the pavement of a street in a city near you.
On average, e-scooters weigh between 25 and 50 lbs, making them a trip, slip and fall pavement accident in the waiting for pedestrians,, particularly at night. For blind or partially sighted pedestrians, it's not being dramatic to say they constitute a potential death trap.
- Privately owned electric scooters may only be used on private land and then only with the permission of the landowner. However, that hasn't prevented thousands from illegally riding their privately owned e-scooters on public roads and pavements. Many issues highlighted by the illegal use of e-scooters, including the fact their rider carries no insurance in the event of a collision with a vehicle or pedestrian.
- That e-scooters are ridden on pavements, whether privately owned or hired under a rental scheme, is a cause for great concern. As well as being illegal, the dangers electric scooters pose to pedestrians on pavements are clear for all to see; they can travel at speed and weave between pedestrians, all without any warning of their approach (due to the silence of their electric-powered motor).
Sadly, the UK recently experienced the death of the first pedestrian following an e-scooter accident when a lady in Nottinghamshire was knocked down on the pavement by an electric scooter ridden by a 16-year-old boy. (The legal age limit for riding an e-scooter is 16, but the person must also have, as a minimum, a provisional driving licence, which can't be obtained until they reach 17 years of age.)
- The police complain that e-scooters are being used to assist offenders in the commission of crimes. In March 2022, following a Freedom of Information request, the Metropolitan Police Force revealed statistics showing e-scooters were used in 911 crimes committed in London during 2021, a 300 per cent increase on the previous year's figures.
- Worryingly, the latest figures (for 2022) on road traffic accident casualties involving e-scooters show that 1434 road users received injuries through their involvement in e-scooter accidents, three times higher than in the previous year.
So, what's next for e-scooters?
Few would argue that e-scooters are and should be here to stay as long as proper regulation is brought in to govern their use.
A good deal of the limbo that surrounds the use of electric scooters comes from the fact that the Department for Transport, whilst championing the cause of e-scooters, now seems to be dragging its heels in getting proper legislation drafted and brought into force.
Critics of the government's perceived sluggishness in bringing in appropriate e-scooter legislation argue that legalising privately owned e-scooters for use on public roads means that laws can simultaneously be introduced to prevent and punish, effectively, anti-social behaviour around the use of e-scooters, e.g.,
- The riding of e-scooters on pavements
- Leaving an e-scooter on a road or pavement in such a way that it becomes a hazard to other road users
- Introducing e-scooter-specific legislation concerning insurance on private e-scooters, rider age requirements, and the need for helmets to be worn by riders.
When will e-scooter legislation be introduced in the UK?
E-scooter trials around the country have been extended until May 2024. It seems unlikely that legislation will be introduced before then, at the very least, leaving many to rue the fact that the current position is unsatisfactory for anyone, whether pro, anti or neutral, in their feeling toward e-scooters.
If the number of e-scooter accident casualties trebled last year to what they were in the previous one, how much more are those figures likely to multiply again this year?
Road users suffering injuries in e-scooter accidents are likely to be vulnerable road users; pedestrians, runners, cyclists, horse riders and, of course, e-scooter riders themselves. For their sake, e-scooter legislation must be drafted and become law without further delay.