As of Saturday 4th July, rental e-scooters will be legal to ride on UK roads.
The move comes as part of an acceleration of the Department for Transport’s proposals announced in March, in a bid to facilitate social distancing without having to resort to cars. Local authorities will now be able to set up trials with private companies.
The introduction of electric scooters has sparked fierce debate. Blindness charities are concerned that they pose a real threat to people with reduced visibility, and our partners at Living Streets have highlighted issues around safety and the potential to obstruct space for walking.
On the flip side, other groups are lauding their introduction, as it could equate to a reduction in car use, with the associated benefits of cleaner air and casualty reduction. All this in the time of COVID-19, where -escooters could serve as an alternative to increased car use.
And casualty reduction is what we at RoadPeace are campaigning for. Whilst e-scooters pose a threat to more vulnerable pedestrians due to their speed and ease with which they can go onto pavements, they are significantly less of a threat than cars, motorcycles or other vehicles.
RoadPeace is therefore cautiously supportive, on the basis that e-scooters lead to a reduction in motor vehicle use. And certainly other cities have shown that this would be the case.
The key area for concern, and one which has not been discussed much at present in the media, is what happens when a crash does happen (which sadly, we know they will). What charges exist, and how will insurance work for those injured by or injured on scooters?
Last year YouTube star Emily Hartridge was killed by a lorry whilst riding her escooter in Battersea. Riding private escooters on UK roads was illegal then, as it will be on Saturday (only hire scooters are being legalised). Rightly, no charge was therefore brought against the lorry driver. And a very real threat following the legalisation of hire scooters, is that those riding privately owned scooters will not know that what they are doing is illegal. As hire scooters become more prevalent, it is likely that private scooter use will too. How will police be able to differentiate and therefore enforce only hire e-scooters? And those seriously injured whilst on their own e-scooter will not be able to claim for any rehabilitation costs they would not doubt desperately need.
The insurance issue is also something to address for those riding legally. One of the rules is that the rider must hold a provisional or full UK driving license. How will this checked? RoadPeace suspect it is unlikely it will be. And whilst the onus will probably be on the e-scooter rental company to communicate this to the rider, it is the rider who will lose out if a crash does happen. Ultimately the requirement for a provisional or UK driving license in many cases will only serve to provide an excuse to insurance companies to not pay out.
And what about those killed or injured by e-scooters? With a maximum speed of 12.5 or 15.5 miles an hour, it is anticipated this number will be very low. The scooters themselves will be covered by an insurance policy which would cover personal injury to other road users. However in terms of criminal justice, the law will no doubt be much the same in how it deals with cyclists who kill or injure. The Charlie Alliston case which hit the headlines when his bike crashed into Kim Briggs, killing her, led him to be charged with “causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving”. A Victorian law which was the only fitting charge after manslaughter.
It should be stressed though that death and injury by e-scooters is likely to be very low, and may well contribute to an overall reduction in casualties if significant numbers of people swap from motorised vehicles to using e-scooters.
The pros and cons aside, debate on e-scooters feels a little like the debate about cycle helmets. Something people get very het up about and it capitalises on media time, but distracts from the issues which cause death and injury. There would be a much greater benefit if as much attention was given to dangerous driver behaviour and how to tackle it. After all, the 1,784 reported deaths on Britain’s roads in 2018 and what caused them deserves much greater attention than e-scooters.