When out and about on the roads, it is easy to forget that private e-scooters are illegal in the UK. Personal e-scooter sales have rocketed in recent months, with one retailer reporting a 450 per cent increase in sales. Reasons for this have been largely attributed to people’s aversion to public transport during the pandemic.
Evidently, the 1988 Road Traffic Act has been unable to adapt to the technological developments of e-scooters. As a result, e-scooter usage has overtaken regulation.
Prompted by the Department for Transport’s (DfT) consultation last year on the future of mobility, the UK government brought forward trials of rental e-scooter use in ‘Future Transport Zones’, including London, Newcastle, Bristol and Bournemouth. Demand for rental e-scooters has proved high. To use one you need a UK driver’s license and are encouraged to wear a cycling helmet. Moreover, you will need to complete an online or on-app safety course before hopping on.
The DfT has deemed the trials necessary to understand the data surrounding e-scooter safety and the associated number and severity of injuries. However, with the earliest results not expected until November 2021, there is still much to learn about how (and whether) e-scooters will be formally integrated into the UK transport network.
As usage increases, so will calls for appropriate legislation to ensure the safety of all road users. Given the flood of private e-scooters on the streets, it appears unlikely that the government will attempt to turn back the tide by continuing to ban their use.
That means there is a pressing need to educate e-scooter riders on how to travel more safely, perhaps through a formal training programme – something that ACSO member CoMoUK is exploring with a number of stakeholders. The accuracy of geofencing may need to be improved to ensure that e-scooters do not become ‘street clutter’ when parked and are not ridden on the pavements, especially in built-up areas.
Further discussion is needed on the design of e-scooters, including on the installation of indicators and sounds to alert pedestrians and especially the visually impaired of their approach. Retailers should inform consumers that e-scooter use is currently illegal except on private land or as part of the official trial schemes, or of any new rules which the government subsequently brings in, not least around safety.
It’s imperative that the government works closely with local police forces on the effectiveness of the trials and how to improve the enforcement of regulation. At present, e-scooters are not recognised by police systems and officers are often unfamiliar with the relevant legislation.
If, as seems very likely, e-scooters are here to stay we need collaborative and cooperative action between policymakers, police, local councils, industry groups and others to make the roads safe for all users. The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) Vulnerable Consumer Group is working to play its part and looks forward to having more data – and more views – to consider.