While not solely brought about by Covid-19 the use of e-scooters on our roads appears to be one change which will become much more obvious in the coming months. The reason for this is a drive to increase green and socially distanced travel options.
In a recent statement Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said:
“As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain…E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.”
The scheme, which will provide scooters for hire, may last up to 12 months and will allow the impact of the use of e-scooters to be assessed before long term decisions are made about their safety and impact.
There will be various restrictions in place in respect of the use of e-scooters. They will have a maximum motor power of 500 watts and will not be able to go faster than 15.5 miles per hour. Additionally, they will only be able to be used on roads and cycle lanes, not pavements or other areas reserved for pedestrians. Most notably users will also need a driver’s license (full or provisional). The scooters themselves will not need to be registered as vehicles but will need insurance and the use of a helmet is advised but will not be made mandatory.
Various concerns have been raised in respect of the forthcoming trials. Visual awareness campaigners have highlighted the risks they face from the increasing use of e-scooters. There have also been concerns raised about untrained and uninsured riders set loose on the nation’s roads which could lead to more accidents.
While e-scooters represent a new way of travelling on our roads their potential impact should not be over stated. When considering the effects of their use a comparison can be drawn with Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPC) or e-bikes.
The current rules in respect of an e-bike are that its electric motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts and should not be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph. It is the case that e-bikes are required to be pedalled in order for the motor to provide assistance however the effort required is minimal and many e-bikes have a throttle function that allows the bike to be propelled to its maximum speed as long as the pedals are turning, even very slowly.
The road presence of e-scooters and e-bikes are relatively similar in that they are of similar size with similar visibility for other road users. The Government has noted that,
“Responses so far received from the Future of transport regulatory review call for evidence generally supported treating e-scooters like cycles and EAPCs.”
Both modes of transport can be ridden on roads and cycle paths at similar speeds without the rider being subject to any formal training requirement.
Under the current proposed rules for e-scooter trials a defacto age limit of 16 has been set by the need to hold a provisional or full drivers’ licence whereas e-bikes can be ridden by anyone 14 and over. It also seems that, currently, those medically, or otherwise, prevented from holding a driving licence will be excluded from the e-scooter trials but are free to utilise an e-bike which has no such requirements.
There is also a requirement for e-scooters to be insured. Therefore, in the event of an accident, there will be sufficient protection for an injured party to receive compensation. Again, no such requirement exists for e-bikes which have the potential to travel a greater speed and will generally be of greater weight.
While the pros and cons of e-scooters will need to be closely assessed over the next year it appears at this stage that they present a comparable risk profile to existing modes of transport while presenting the opportunity to engage a large number of people in an accessible, greener and more regulated way of travelling around our cities.