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The legality of electric scooters: pursuing personal injury claims against riders

Posted: 19/05/2021

Working towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of living is at the forefront of people’s minds more than ever before, as is the concept of sustainable transportation. Vehicles are one of the major air pollutants and finding better ways to manage this environmental issue is often at the top of the green ‘to-do’ list. Whether it is as a means of finding an eco-friendly alternative form of transportation, or simply a purchase made for interest and fun, the popularity of electric scooters (‘e-scooters’) has grown rapidly in recent years.

Electric scooters are designed to save energy. They are battery-powered, compact, lightweight, easy to charge and emit clean energy. On paper they seem to be a perfect solution, all whilst enabling users to travel at a faster pace than they would if they were to cycle or walk. Is it all good news though? Might they cause more problems than they solve? Below are just a small proportion of the recent news headlines that appear when ‘e-scooter’ is typed into an internet search engine.

  • ‘Drink driver knocked e-scooter rider’ - Daily Mail, 13 May 2021
  • ‘Woman, 78, suffers horrific injuries after e-scooter hit-and-run’ – Ely Standard, 13 May 2021
  • ‘Fears over ‘dangerous’ e-scooter riders after two ‘near misses’’ – Liverpool Echo, 8 May 2021
  • ‘E-scooters: sister of six-year-old boy who had skull fractured by teenage rider calls for under-21 ban’ – Sky News, 3 May 2021

The above headlines raise the question of how the law treats e-scooters and their users.

E-scooters are part of a group of devices called ‘powered light electric vehicles’ (PLEVs). The UK Government also uses the term ‘powered transporters’ to cover a variety of emerging modes of personal transport which are mechanically propelled (propelled by a motor) as well as or instead of being manually propelled. This includes e-scooters, Segways, hoverboards, go-peds (combustion engine-powered kick-scooters), powered unicycles and u-wheels.

There is no specially-designed legal regime for powered transporters but given how they are motorised and designed, they fall within the legal definition of a ‘motor vehicle’ under s185(1) of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988.

What does this mean for their use? Firstly, it is illegal to use them on public roads unless RTA 1988 requirements are complied with - those being tax, MOT, licensing, lighting, number plates and signalling capabilities.

It is also illegal to use e-scooters in spaces that are set aside for use by pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders, and this includes on the pavement (illegal under s72 Highway Act 1835) and in cycle lanes (illegal under s21(1) RTA 1988). The reality is that unless potential users can comply with legal requirements, the use of e-scooters should be limited to private land with the permission of the landowner. Any person who rides an e-scooter on a public road or other prohibited space in breach of the law is committing a criminal offence and can be prosecuted.

In the UK, there is now a Government e-scooter trial running in certain local areas whereby the only restrictions that apply are that the e-scooter is rented from an approved organisation in the trial area, the rider has a full or provisional UK driving licence and the scooter is insured by the rental organisation.

Government guidance on the use of e-scooters is available here.

A key issue really is awareness. Alternative means of eco-friendly transport are welcomed by society and there has been a rapid increase in the use of e-scooters by people of all ages, and with that a reasonable concern over the lack of education and awareness regarding responsible use. They are, after all, motor vehicles and the news headlines speak for themselves - users can cause serious injury to others if e-scooters are not ridden in a safe manner.

Often, potential claimants are unaware of their ability to pursue a personal injury claim against a user of an e-scooter or they consider it impossible or not worth trying because of a lack of motor insurance on the part of the e-scooter rider. That should not be a barrier. As it stands, there has been no announcement on insurance requirements should e-scooters become legal and, whilst it is only correct that compulsory insurance be a legal requirement for use on public roads, at present the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) has a residual liability to compensate victims who are hit by e-scooters. This means a claim under the Uninsured Drivers Agreement or the Untraced Drivers Agreement can be made.

It is equally as important to remember that users of e-scooters can also be victims of accidents and serious injury. All road users owe a duty of care to one another and if a road user fails in that duty, they put others at risk.

If you are considering pursuing a personal injury claim which has involved the use of an e-scooter, one of our specialist solicitors would be happy to have an initial discussion with you to assess your options.

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