On 4 July 2020, the green revolution took a small but significant step forward when the use of E-scooters on public roads became legal in the UK. Such use became permissible only in limited circumstances, whereas previously there was a blanket ban on E-scooters anywhere but on private land, mainly due to safety concerns. The advent of the pandemic and the consequent heightened focus on the changing traffic environment led the UK Government to fast–forward a relaxation of E-scooter restrictions, so that their use on public roads is now permitted, but only in limited circumstances, where they have been hired out to members of the public as part of specific trial rental schemes, the latest of which, in the most significant development yet, is due to appear in London shortly, in the Spring of 2021.
In defiance of the law, these deft little machines were however in fact already an established part of the landscape of our major towns and cities, more often than not gliding their private owners along pavements and through squares, malls and piazzas. The introduction of the rental schemes has, it would appear, led to an increase in such illegal use, with clear confusion in the minds of the public, there now being an assumption that ‘e-scooters are legal in the UK’. It is now estimated that there are some 300,000 e-scooters being ridden, illegally, on public roads, pavements and other public areas, including cycle lanes. Police activity has increased and there have been widespread reports of confiscation and prosecution including the most recent case in February 2021, whereby a fine was issued by the Magistrates’ Court in excess of £1000.00.
Parents who buy e-scooters for their children therefore need to be very aware that the use of private e-scooters other than on private land remains illegal ,and illegal users may lose their machines and be prosecuted. Offenders can be subject to on the spot fines, and if they have a driving licence, a six point penalty. If such private users were to be involved in an accident with, for example, a pedestrian, or any other road user, they could also face substantial Civil Damages claims, especially where personal injuries have occurred. In those circumstances, it is unlikely that insurance would be in place, and therefore the liability of the user would not be indemnified. So unless their children are lucky enough to have access to private land and will confine their use of their shiny new e-scooter to it, parents who buy these machines should be aware that criminal and civil liability for their children could quickly follow.
In the meantime, whilst a future transport utopia involving electric vehicles of all kinds seems desirable, all users need to appreciate that e-scooters will be governed by the same laws and liabilities as other motor vehicles, with the same consequences for irresponsible use, and bear that in mind before renting an e-scooter under the current trial schemes.
Peter Kelly is a Legal Director and Kerry Brownley is a solicitor at Lime Solicitors