Sponsor segment – E-scooters

Thursday 15 April 2021

Heralded as the commuter tool of the future – e-scooters can be viewed as an efficient and environmentally friendly way of travelling short distances, easing pressure on the transport network. They may also become more attractive in post-COVID-19 times as an effective and economic means of travelling alone.

E-scooters remain illegal in the UK (unless used on privately owned land) but legislatively they are classified in the same way as motorcycles.

The UK Government has established a rental trial scheme, operated at a local level. These trials run for 12 months, with the trial period beginning in each area when e-scooters become available to the public. The option for trials to continue beyond the initial 12-months will be built into the legal mechanism, but any extension is subject to local and national government agreement.

The objective of the trials is to gather intelligence on e-scooter use, rider behaviour and the risks they pose, so decisions can be made on future legislation and regulation.

The E-scooter debate

E-scooter use sits in two markets - private ownership and the rental/shared scooter market. For private e-scooter users, it is legal to purchase and use them on your own private land, but not on the public highway, cycle lanes, tracks or pavement.

Classified as personal light electric vehicles (PLEVs), under current regulations they are subject to MOT, tax, licensing and specific construction.

The rental market currently operates through the controlled government-led trials with selected rental providers, which are easier to regulate and control. These trials enable riders to unlock the e-scooter using a mobile app, ride to their destination, park and pay. The cost is normally priced on a minute ridden basis.

With the trials underway, thoughts are turning to the potential changes to existing regulations so the approach to registration and enforcement is proportionate and sensible. Early responses received by the Department for Transport as part of their Future of Transport Regulatory Review support treating e-scooters in the future in the same way as electrically-assisted pedal cycles (EPACs).

Issues to be fleshed out

There remain some issues to be worked through and the data and intelligence gathered through the Review and controlled trials will help reach a position on many of these. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Registration
    Potentially using a barcode system and registration on a national database would assist in tracing owners/keepers and support enforcement activity. In the private market, ownership may change hands easily, which could limit the effectiveness of a database if not updated.
  • Usage restrictions
    The controlled trials apply the legal driving age of 17, which restricts data capture of demographic appetite for younger riders. It could be some riders first experience on the road and there may be a lack of understanding of the Highway Code. Basic road awareness training may be required but will be challenging to enforce for the private market?
  • Insurance
    Should insurance be compulsory and how would it work in practice?  For private users, this could be triggered at the point of sale. There is still a lack of insurance availability in the UK market but is in place for the rental market. Cost is transferred to the user, based on journey time and can be toggled on and off using the rental app. Other considerations are annual insurance policies and whether there should be a Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) equivalent. If insurance is compulsory, this would protect against those uninsured or untraced.
  • Enforcement
    This will need to be clear, reasonable and proportionate. European cities are combining clear fines and enforcement rules with an education programme for users. There is the risk that e-scooters could be a part of the shared urban economy for criminal activities such as county lines drug running or fraudulent injury and damage claims. There are also data protection and data sharing issues to be considered.  
  • Highways authority exposure
    Highways’ authorities apply a risk based approach to inspection, repair and maintenance of the highway and it is foreseeable that e-scooter riders will use the highway in a similar fashion to bicycles – near the kerbside. Arrangements should be reviewed to ensure e-scooter use is captured. New obstructions and tripping hazards may arise from e-scooters being left on the pavement, injuries to pedestrians and damage to street furniture.
  • User acceptance risk
    The expectation is one rider uses an e-scooter at any one time. Technology on rental scooters can detect balance and weight distribution distortions to alert when there are more riders. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as reflective clothing and helmets are recommended but not compulsory. For any arising civil claims, contributory negligence could apply if PPE is not worn at the time of an accident where there is a claim for injury.

There is no doubt that as an alternative mode of transport, e-scooters can have a favourable impact on climate change, air quality and congestion. They will be a key feature of the Future Transport Programme and evidence gathered during the trials will be considered in conjunction with Review responses to determine whether to fully legalise e-scooters and other micro mobility vehicles.

Ashley Easen (ashley.easen@rmpartners.co.uk) is Director of Risk Control at Risk Management Partners. Ashley has been supporting public sector clients to raise defensibility, improve their risk profiles, strengthen safety standards and reduce their total cost of risk for over 20 years.  

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