E-scooters: The ‘new normal’ for transport or a hazard in waiting?

Electric scooters are now being trialled in parts of the UK in a 12-month scheme that allows two-wheeled vehicles on roads in pre-approved locations if they are hired through a share scheme. But as questions remain over whether they are a safe mode of transport, Rob Dempsey (pictured), personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors, assesses these concerns and explains how e-scooters could become part of the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ world.

Legally introducing electric scooters has been in the pipeline for a while. However, the fact that this has happened as part of a government coronavirus update suggests the use of scooters for work and leisure could be a key part of delivering the “new normal”. Prior to the pandemic, four

“future transport zones”, including the East Midlands, were earmarked for transport innovation to provide a cleaner alternative to motor vehicles. However, plans to introduce e-

scooters onto Britain’s streets as part of this innovation have been fast-tracked and opened to cities outside these zones as a way of quickly reducing numbers on public transport and facilitating social distancing. The legislative changes to allow

the legal introduction of e-scooters onto UK roads and cycle paths came into force on 4 July. On 13 July, Teesside was announced as the first – and now confirmed as the only – area approved to use e-scooters.

However, I have no doubt that others, including cities in the East Midlands, will follow shortly. Private electric scooters will not

be allowed under the trials. Instead, only rental e-scooters are permitted on roads and cycle paths in specific areas approved by the government. As with bicycles, there will be no

legal requirement to wear a helmet or carry a registration plate but, more in line with mopeds, users are required to have a driving licence. Outside of the approved areas,

however, e-scooters are still illegal, and riders will be liable for a £300 fixed penalty with six points added to their driving licence if caught. The new scheme will lead to new

responsibilities for the regions hoping to run the trials. If a bid is successful, local areas will have the power to monitor the number of electric scooters and where they can be used or parked. Emphasis will also be placed on ensuring the safety of pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities, to ensure the scooters do not become an obstruction.

62 business network August/September 2020

‘Local areas will have the power to monitor the number of electric scooters and where they can be used or parked’

From the bidding process to the implementation of the scheme, it is clear there will need to be a great deal of planning and co-operation at every level of local government. Inevitably, there are a wide range

of views on the introduction of e- scooters. On the one hand, environmentalists and cycle campaign groups see this as a cleaner alternative for short journeys. Others, such as the

Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, have questioned how safe the scooters are – for example, pointing to the small wheels which may be vulnerable to potholes and the absence of indicators. They also fear that the trials may

open the floodgates for wider e- scooter use in the future, leading to

hazards from discarded scooters on the road and pedestrians being at risk from collision. The final announcement

following the consultation process suggests more emphasis has been placed on the UKs newfound enthusiasm for e-scooters than safety concerns. Originally there was talk of a maximum speed of 12.5 mph, with the scooters weighing up to 35kg excluding the rider, and a maximum motor power of 350 watts. The final decision sees electric

scooters able to achieve maximum speed of 15.5 mph, a weight up to 55kg and a motor power of 500 watts. This, coupled with concerns as to

whether the infrastructure is ready to accommodate e-scooters on our roads and cycle paths, will not allay the concerns for pedestrian and the users of e-scooters themselves. I hope that during these trials, solutions for improving the road infrastructure and increased safety of all pedestrians will be taken into consideration before it is rolled out across the country.

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