Good news - it's legal to buy escooters in the UK. OK news - there are many places where it's legal to rent and ride them on the road. Bad news - it's not yet legal to ride your own scooter on public roads.
Private scooters: the law today - January 2024
Technically, an electric scooter is a motorised two-wheel vehicle or Personal Light Electric Vehicle (PLEV). They differ from electric bikes not just because they don't have pedals but because they are classed as motor vehicles under the road traffic laws.
Why are electric scooters illegal?
Because escooters don't (usually) comply with road traffic laws (like the fastest ebikes) - in particular they don't have rear lights or registration plates - it's not legal to use a privately-owned scooter on a UK road.
This is why it's often said that they are legal only on private land with the landowner's permission. See below for how this might change in future.
What if you're caught?
If you were caught on a public highway, you'd technically be driving a motor vehicle with no insurance - you could be liable for a fixed penalty of £300 and six points on your driving licence. If the case went to court, you could get an unlimited fine and be disqualified from driving. Your scooter could also be impounded by the police.
Even if you did have a model that followed the rules, you'd also need to obey other law to use it - tax, insurance, MOT, driving licence and helmet.
This doesn't stop people riding scooters unlawfully. And Giovanna Drago is suing a London council for £30,000 after her Illegally ridden e-scooter hit a pothole in Barnet leading to her breaking her leg.
Buying "illegal" scooters
It's possible to buy scooters with no warnings that they currently are illegal on UK roads, or ones with very high maximum speeds which will never be made legal in the UK. West Midlands Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner, Tom McNeil, is demand government action to address these high-speed: “I have written to the government demanding to know why it has failed to tighten the rules around e-scooters."
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Rented scooters: the law today - January 2024
The government is currently running trials in 31 regions where it's legal to use rental scooters on public roads (excluding motorways) and in cycle lanes. It published a report on the findings to date in December 2022. (In London the schemes run alongside the ebike rental market)
In the trial, the hiring company arranges the insurance. Users still need a valid driving licence (full or provisional - categories AM, A1, A2, A and B) and can then ride the escooters on roads and in cycle lanes and tracks (NB not on pavements). Helmets are recommended but not compulsory.
You need to use them safely and carefully. Don't use a mobile phone while driving, avoid bags hanging from handlebars, and don't drink and ride.
The trials were originally due to end on 30 November 2021 but were extended due to the pandemic. They were then extended a second time and are now due to finish on 30 November 2022. Existing participating local authorities were then given the option to either end their local trial or extend it to 31 May 2024.
In early December 2023, the Department for Transport was revealed to have told councils that legalisation of all escooters was still on the cards but they had so far been unable to secure a slot for the proposed legalisation. As a result, the scooter trials have been extended for a further two years to May 31, 2026.
And this month (January), The DfT says it will now allow authorities to ask for changes to the coverage sand size of electric scooter fleets, as long as there is "proportionate and clear" evidence. Any approved changes will then take effect from June 1, 2024. While this change will make it easier for the existing trial towns to make changes, there are still no plans to expand the number of trial towns.
Even in these trial areas, you still can't use a privately owned escooter on road.
Scooters are very popular - the latest TFL figures released in summer show 2023 revealed that London’s e-scooter trial had over 600 parking bays and 5,000 scooters at end 2022, which had made 2.5 million trips totalling 6.5 million km.
Electric scooter trial areas in 2023 and 2024
The current trial areas are:
- Bournemouth and Poole
- Buckinghamshire (Aylesbury, High Wycombe and Princes Risborough)
- Milton Keynes
- South Somerset (Yeovil)
- West Midlands (Birmingham, Coventry and Sandwell) - paused as of 1 March, see below
- Cheshire West and Chester
- Copeland (Whitehaven)
- Essex (Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Colchester)
- Gloucestershire (Cheltenham and Gloucester)
- Great Yarmouth
- London (participating boroughs)
- North and West Northamptonshire (Northampton, Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough)
- North Devon (Barnstaple)
- North Lincolnshire (Scunthorpe)
- Oxfordshire (Oxford)
- Solent (Isle of Wight and Southampton)
- Somerset West (Taunton and Minehead)
- Tees Valley (Hartlepool and Middlesbrough)
- West of England Combined Authority (Bristol and Bath)
Some areas have stopped their trials in late 2022 including Kent (Canterbury), Sandwell and Slough (which may restart in summer 2023).
Private scooters - future law change
The government is looking into legalising e scooters. Key questions are:
- Should they be treated like ebikes?
- What should the maximum speed or power be?
- Is a handlebar compulsory?
- Should escooters be permitted in cycle lanes?
- What about braking distances, lights, size etc?
- Should users need to register them, have a licence, be a certain age?
In a recent government consultation, the general view was to legally treat them like electric bikes. There was widespread support for legalisation and an overwhelming view that clear regulations are needed. This approach was backed up by a recent electroheads survey.
Defining an escooter
These were the criteria the government used to legalise the rental escooters in the trials - this is a reasonable starting point for what may be legalised (but could well be amended in some way):
- A single electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W
- No pedals that can propel the scooter
- Designed to carry only one person
- Maximum speed of 15.5mph
- 2 wheels, 1 front and 1 rear, aligned along the direction of travel (ie no hoverboards!)
- Weight less than 55kg A mass including the battery, but excluding the rider
- Directional control via handlebars mechanically linked to the steered wheel
- Has a way to control the speed via hand controls and a power control that defaults to the ‘off’ position.
- Seats ARE allowed.
- A white-front and rear-red position lamp
So when will escooters finally become legal in the UK?
There is already one change that happened recently - since December 5, 2023, all new and existing members of electric scooter trials must give their name and driving licence number a photo of the front of their driving licence.
There is no sign of the long promised update to escooter laws in the light of the long-running trials. There had been reports suggesting new laws or regulations might be unveiled in the King’s Speech on November 7th 2023, but none was forthcoming (despite an announced ban on London pedicabs).
The news on escooters around the world isn't always great. Lime, Tier and Dott have removed their combined 15,000 rental e-scooter fleet from Paris after 103,000 Parisians voted in April 2023 on whether to ban them - 90% voted yes. Private escooters are unaffected.
Meanwhile Sydney, Australia, launched rental trials on 10th Jan with Beam providing the fleet.