Scourge or solution? Your e-scooter questions answered

Published 12/10/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

We’ve all seen the explosion in e-scooter use on our streets over the last few years. Yet it might surprise you to hear they’re illegal on Welsh roads. Though plans to legalise them are being developed.

The questions we’re asked by Members suggest many constituents aren’t clear about the law on e-scooters. This article answers a few common enquiries.

What is an e-scooter?

Electric scooters, or ‘e-scooters’, are battery powered personal transport devices – one of a growing number of lightweight powered ‘micro-mobility’ vehicles. In the UK they’re classed as “powered transporters”, along with devices like Segways, hoverboards and go-peds.

What does the law say?

While it’s legal to buy or sell an e-scooter, riding a privately owned e-scooter on public roads, pavements or cycle lanes is illegal in the UK. And it’s illegal to ride any e-scooter, private or rental, in Wales.

E-scooters are classed as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1988. So they must meet construction and use regulations, and users must have insurance, a driving licence, number plates and helmets.

The difficulty in complying with these requirements means in practice e-scooters can only be used as part of the UK Government trial (see below) or with permission on private land.

The UK Government stresses enforcement is an operational matter for chief police officers.

Why are e-bikes legal and e-scooters illegal?

Vehicles used on the road are subject to construction and use regulations.  Regulations governing electric bikes, or e-bikes, have been in place for some time.  

These establish certain requirements like power output and powered speed, and make clear e-bikes may not be used on footways / pavements or by anyone under 14 years of age.

There is no equivalent for e-scooters. As “powered transporters”, they don’t comply with motor vehicle construction and use regulations.

So tell me about the UK Government trial?

In 2020 the UK Government legislated to permit rental e-scooter trials in participating local authorities. While trials were open to local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, only 31 English authorities are taking part.

The law underpinning the trials defines ‘e-scooters’ and amends road traffic regulations to exempt e-scooters used in trials from certain statutory requirements.

E-scooters ridden in the trial area must be rented, and be insured by the rental operator. The rider must have a category Q driving licence (a form of moped licence), must follow road traffic regulations, and the e-scooter must be only be used on the road or in a cycle lane and not be ridden on the pavement. Number plates and helmets aren’t mandatory.

Privately owned e-scooters, or those rented from an operator not participating in the trial, remain illegal in a trial area, except on private land.

The trial period ends on 30 November 2022. Participating authorities have the option to extend the trial to 31 May 2024.

Is this a devolved matter?

No, this is largely a reserved issue. This is because powers over the construction and use of motor vehicles, road traffic offences, driver licensing and instruction, vehicle insurance and registration are all reserved to the UK Government.

This is why the trials were initiated by the UK Government.

However, depending on the approach taken to legalisation some devolved areas may be affected. For example, as road signs are devolved any move to extend the trials to Wales would require the Welsh Ministers to amend the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD).

So will the law be changed?

As a largely reserved matter this question falls to the UK Government. The most recent Queen’s speech included plans to legalise e-scooters by establishing a new vehicle category.

In September, Minister of State in the Department for Transport (DfT) Lucy Fraser said the DfT has implemented a monitoring and evaluation programme for the e-scooter trials. Findings will be published “later this year”. She explained:

It is our intention to use the powers in the Transport Bill to legalise e-scooter use in the future, with robust technical requirements and clear expectations on users. A more appropriate regulatory regime ​for e-scooters will allow the police to enforce regulations more effectively and focus on those using e-scooters in a way that endangers themselves and other road users or pedestrians. The Bill will also include provisions that will subsequently permit local authorities to manage cycle and e-scooter rental schemes, so that they can tailor services to their local area while still ensuring a baseline national standard of service provision.

She made clear that no decision had been taken on the detail of regulations, and said the UK Government “will consult before any new arrangements come into force.”

In April in the House of Commons Transport Committee the then Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, distinguished between “substandard” private e-scooters, and rental models. He promised to “crack down on the private market and make it illegal to sell e-scooters that do not meet the [planned] regulatory standards”. He stressed that the safety record in trials was better than that of private e-scooters.

What’s the Welsh Government’s view?

The Welsh Government has tended to highlight that the matter is reserved. However, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, has responded to questions about safety, describing it as “one of our main concerns”, and highlighting engagement with the RNIB and others on the issue.

He has also said that Welsh Government officials are liaising with the DfT on legalisation plans. Whether legislation in devolved areas will be needed, beyond amendment of the TSRGD, will depend on “the specific detail of any policy proposals developed”.

Is there support for legalisation?

Yes there are calls to legalise e-scooters. Others express concerns about safety. In practice, most of those calling for legalisation also advocate appropriate controls.

In 2020 the DfT commissioned research on attitudes to e-scooters. This found those supporting use focused on environmental, convenience and cost advantages, while concerns focused on safety and suitability for UK infrastructure.

In April 2022 a range of sectors from manufacturing / retail to universities wrote to the UK Government calling for legalisation with appropriate safety standards.

However, in 2021 RNIB published a study highlighting dangers from e-scooter use, particularly for those with visual impairments.

In April, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) published a report on the Safety of Private E-scooters in the UK. The rationale, as the report explains, was that while the trials are being reviewed, “no official assessment of the nature or safety of private use was being undertaken”.

PACTS recommended a “balanced and objective approach”, addressing dangerous and illegal private e-scooter use and consulting on legalisation. It recommended a number of standards for construction and use.

Sustainable transport charities like Sustrans are generally supportive but with qualifications around issues like safety. Similarly Living Streets is concerned about use on pavements. Also while many assume e-scooters will reduce emissions, research considering shared, dockless e-scooters suggests this is not inevitable when the whole lifecycle, including manufacture and maintenance, are considered.

The House of Commons Transport Committee published a report on e-scooters in October 2020 recommending the DfT must focus on:

…developing and implementing a sensible and proportionate regulatory framework for legal e-scooter use, drawing on lessons from other countries, which ensures that potential negative impacts on pedestrians and disabled people are avoided.

Article by Andrew Minnis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament