Speakers in the House of Lords last week debated the safety of e-scooters on UK roads and whether more stringent regulation is needed amid claims that ’the pavements have become a jungle’

Safety concerns about the use of electric scooters (e-scooters) was debated at the House of Lords on 20 January 2022, with Conservative peer Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe revealing she is ”in fear of my life from e-scooters” due to their ”fast-running speed”.

Neville-Rolfe used the discussion to ask the UK government about its plans to further regulate this type of vehicle.

According to current UK laws, e-scooters can only be used on private land as opposed to public roads and pavement - but the government is considering whether this should be changed.

As part of this investigation, the Department for Transport (DfT) introduced legislation in July 2020 to enable 12-month rental e-scooter trials to take place on public roads and cycle lanes across the UK. E-scooters used in the trial are insured, however insurance provision for private e-scooters is not currently available.

Addressing the House of Lords, Neville-Rolfe said: “E-scooters are a recent invention. Like most inventions, they potentially offer some people real advantages. Also like most inventions, they have downsides. The trick, if possible, is to maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages.”

She added that many e-scooters seen on UK roads at the moment were private ones and are therefore illegal to ride in this manner because they are not included in the government trial.

The government is waiting for its nationwide e-scooter trials to conclude before coming to a decision around regulation - these trials were extended to run until November 2022 to help generate sufficient data.

Urgent matter to be addressed

Regulations for e-scooters used in the government trials limit their maximum speed to 15.5 miles per hour, with a maximum power of five watts. E-scooter users must also have a full or provisional driving licence. Wearing a helmet while on an e-scooter is advised rather than mandatory.

E-scooters participating in the government trial can use cycle lanes, but are illegal when driven on pavements.

All trial e-scooters have insurance, which is provided by the rental operator and confirmed by the DfT.

To date, more than 66,000 e-scooters have been approved for use in 31 trials across 54 UK sites. At the end of November 2021, there were 23,141 e-scooters available to rent across the 54 trial areas.

Neville-Rolfe continued: “The point, of course, is that heavy objects moving at the equivalent of a fast running speed are potentially dangerous to the public, especially to pedestrians.

”It is a pity that these problems have been allowed to develop without any attempt by the government to set appropriate limits and boundaries.

“Speaking more personally, I live in fear of my life from e-scooters as I walk home. If I were disabled, I would be much more worried. The pavements have become a jungle. This has become an urgent matter - something must be done and done quickly.”

She suggested two possible approaches to address e-scooter risks.

Firstly, Neville-Rolfe proposed that the sale of e-scooters in the UK could be prohibited.

She explained: “There have been 258 collisions in London alone during the first six months of 2021, according to the police, and I am sure this is an underestimate, as many collisions go unreported.

“We also need to understand what they will replace. There seems very little evidence that they will replace cars. The main users are young people and they will be substituting for bicycles, including electric bikes, non-electric scooters and public transport. All of these are less dangerous and cycling is better for your health.”

Appropriate powers and penalties

Secondly, Neville-Rolfe suggested that regulation should be used to better manage e-scooters - for example, providing “appropriate powers and penalties”, as well as giving the police or transport authorities additional resources to enforce existing e-scooter laws.

“The regulations would need to cover the safety and design of the scooters so that they are less dangerous and, in particular, do not catch fire, which has been an issue mentioned in a number of recent media reports,” she added.

“The design might include lights and sounds. The regulations would also need to cover speed limits, mandatory helmet wearing — given their speed — perhaps a simple driving test and compulsory insurance.

“We would also need existing laws to be properly enforced. If this approach were chosen, a proper costed impact assessment would be illuminating.”

Lord Holmes of Richmond added: “If not an outright ban, this is certainly time for serious consideration and a pause in what is happening. I say that for myself, as a blind person, but I say it also for all people who could become casualties of this e-scooter free-for-all.

“At least we need the current law to be fully enforced. We then absolutely need to look at further and closer regulation.

”If something is not safe, if it is not inclusive [in] design, what part can it possibly have in a society for everybody? If we truly believe in levelling up and building back better, what place [is there for e-scooters]?”

Defining a legal framework

Alistair Kinley, director of policy and government affairs at law firm BLM, told Insurance Times: “By having this debate, the House of Lords looks to be asking the government to look beyond the closely regulated settings of the various e-scooter trials and to take account of what’s happening on streets and pavements across the country.

“Ministers need to reach an informed conclusion about what rules, regulation and insurance provisions are necessary to make e-scooters as safe as possible for riders, motorists and cyclists - and for deaf and partially sighted pedestrians in particular.”

Kinley additionally noted that ”widespread illegal use of e-scooters is endemic”.

He continued: “Police enforcement is, at best, patchy. There are at least 10 times as many illegally used, privately owned e-scooters as there are ones authorised within the trials.

“Although the monitoring of the trials will give policymakers some details of accident and safety data, it simply won’t provide a full picture of the risks posed by e-scooters.

“The challenge for the government is to design a legal regime for e-scooters that is grounded in a hard to define reality based somewhere between the controlled conditions of the trials and the de facto free-for-all everywhere else.”