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. Better news - that could soon change although maybe not until 2024.
Private scooters: the law today - September 2023
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 - 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 - September 2023
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 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 have just been given the option to either end their local trial or extend it to 31 May 2024.
Even in these trial areas, you still can't use a privately owned escooter on road.
And questions have been raised about the age-verification process after a 12-year-old boy riding riding a Voi e-scooter was killed in a bus collision in Birmingham on the 6th December 2022.
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?
Approved rental scooters in the trial areas are already legal on public roads, as long as you have a driving licence. When private scooters are legalised is up to the government - which had said it wanted to enact legislation in the current Parliamentary session, so before spring 2023 (when this was said).
However, this was announced in October before Rishi Sunak became PM, and he hasn't made any commitment either way yet.
On top of this, the government has talked about extending the current parliamentary session to autumn and not legislating on emobility until the next session - so, disappointingly, we could be looking at 2024 before the law gets updated.
Paris scooter ban
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 on whether to ban them - 90% voted yes. Private escooters are unaffected.