They’re cheaper than taking a taxi, less hard work than riding a bike and more convenient than the bus, and on the continent of Europe, the electric scooter is everywhere to be seen..

Over the past year-and-a-half, e-scooters have taken over many European cities. Worldwide, scooter share firms operate in more than 100 cities. The electric scooter is changing town and cityscapes everywhere.

Take Paris for example. Visitors to the city can see scooterists gliding like swans throughout the French capital, their bodies motionless and serene.

However, piles of scooters discarded by the roadside, a worrying number of injuries and even some road deaths have provoked a growing backlash against them in a number of European cities.

Those dangers were underscored recently when Emily Hartridge, a 35-year-old YouTuber and TV presenter, was killed while riding an e-scooter in Battersea, south-west London, after a collision with a lorry at a roundabout. 

Paris, the e-scooter hub of Europe, with an estimated 20,000 scooters on its streets, has seen its first fatality after a young man was hit by a truck. Road users are used to seeing bicycles, but are not used to e-scooters. When you see someone standing up, arms by their sides, it’s easy at a glance to think they are a pedestrian and not realise they’re coming towards you at 20mph.

The experience of Parisians suggests that it’s not only e-scooter riders at risk. A pianist, Isabelle van Brabant, was hit by an e-scooter in the park, breaking her wrist in two places, leaving her unable to play her instrument. Her injury led to the formation of a campaign group against e-scooters, to win compensation for victims, with legal actions planned against the Paris municipal authorities and the rider who injured Van Brabant.

Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, was in favour of e-scooters as a greener alternative to cars, but has announced a crackdown on the scooters. Bad parking, riding on pavements and breaking the 20km/h speed limit now all result in fines. Police have subsequently issued 1,000 tickets and impounded 600 scooters.

In Copenhagen, pedestrians complain about scooters strewn across pavements and that are a hazard for blind people and wheelchair users, as well as other anti-social behaviour: A recent study by two casualty departments in the Danish capital found an average of about two injuries a day. After running an information campaign, senior officers mounted an operation against drink-riders, posting officers around the city centre. In just one night, 24 e-scooter riders were stopped on suspicion of riding while over the legal alcohol limit, and four more for some form of narcotic intoxication.

There is still uncertainty about where electric scooters can be legally ridden in the UK and the law may appear difficult and confusing.

 

The adult electric scooter is powered by a battery and therefore classified as a Personal Light Electric Vehicle by the Department for Transport. This makes it illegal to ride on UK roads and pavements. However, you can ride them on private land.

Scooter riders are advised to use their common sense to make sure they are not travelling too fast and have good control of their scooter. Riders should also wear a helmet and have working lights.

There are two reasons why electric scooters cannot be ridden on UK roads. Firstly, the DVLA requires electric vehicles to be registered and taxed. Secondly, because their power and maximum speed are insufficient for public road use. 

Unfortunately, they cannot be used on the pavements either. Neither can they be used on footpaths according to the Highway Act.

An upside of e-scooters not being allowed on public roads is that their owners do not need a driver’s license or permit. Furthermore, electric scooters are tax exempt, and no insurance is required to ride one.

However, UK law may soon change to allow the use of the e-scooter on British streets. Shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, has said there is a “pressing need for the government to provide clarity and guidance” on e-scooters. In March, former transport minister Jesse Norman, considered licensing e-scooters, and his successor Michael Ellis is overseeing a review of legislation at the Department for Transport. 

The minister said: “We are examining whether they can be used safely on the road – and if so, how that should be regulated to ensure the public’s safety.” 

The law includes electric skateboards

Colin Clarke
Author: Colin Clarke