Legal Article: E-scooter trials - an overview

25 November 2020

Written by: Chris Smith, PNLD Traffic Law Consultant
Not reviewed after the date of publication

Because of the transport issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, relating to social distancing etc., the Government are presently carrying out trials in relation to rental e-scooters. The trials will ultimately guide the final decision as to whether the use of e-scooters will be lawful on our roads and if so, what legislation is needed to bring the change about.

This article, written by PNLD’s traffic law consultant, Christopher Smith, provides an overview of the rules, legislation changes and offences that apply to these trials.

Trials in Local Areas

E-scooters in the trials may be used on roads (except motorways) and in cycle lanes, but they cannot be ridden on the pavement. It should be emphasized that the trials don’t apply to rented scooters that don’t form part of the trial or to privately owned e-scooters. Such scooters can’t presently be legally used on roads or pavements – they can only be lawfully used on private property with the landowner’s permission.

All local areas in England, Scotland and Wales are free to participate in the e-scooter rental trials if they wish, but the final decision as to which trials take place rests with the Department for Transport (DfT).

Initial trials of e-scooters are taking place in Tees Valley Combined Authority (Darlington Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Middlesbrough Council, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council); Milton Keynes Borough; Northamptonshire (Boroughs of Kettering and Northampton, and Parish of Grange Park); West Midlands Combined Authority (Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Solihull and Kenilworth); Greater Norwich; Staffordshire (Stafford and Newcastle-Under-Lyme); Gloucestershire (Gloucester and Cheltenham); Liverpool; Redditch; Nottingham; Derby; Cambridge; and York.

Legislative changes

The trials necessitated the modification of existing legislation and this was done by the Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020, which brought about the following changes:

Regulation 2 modified the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002, removing the requirement for the vehicle to hold a nil licence and be registered with the DVLA.

Regulation 3 modified the Motor Cycles (Protective Helmets) Regulations 1998, removing the requirement for the rider of an electric scooter, being used in a trial, to wear a motorcycle helmet.

Regulation 4 modified the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999, permitting full and provisional licence holders of an AM, A or B licence to ride an electric scooter (being a category Q vehicle) under the terms of their current licence, and removing the requirement to complete moped basic training, prior to riding a Category Q vehicle, as it relates to electric scooters being used in a trial. However, it is recommended that e-scooter providers do offer training courses to users.

Regulation 5 modified the Traffic Signs Regulations 2016, amending the meanings of ‘cycle lane’, ‘parallel crossing’, ‘pedestrian and ‘cycle zones’, ‘refuge for pedestrians and cyclists’ and ‘toucan crossing’, and permitting an electric scooter, being used in a trial, to share those types of road spaces. Amendments were also made to clarify that signs relating to pedal cycles also represent electric scooters that are being used in a trial, and that directions to pedal cyclists also apply to riders of electric scooters being used in a trial.

The changes came into effect on the 4th July 2020 and it was envisaged that the trials would commence between then and the end of August 2020. The trials will run for a year with the option to continue them, subject to local / national agreement.

The DfT and local areas are running the trials jointly. The DfT will coordinate and support the development of proposals, working closely with local areas; prepare and introduce the legal changes that allow trials to proceed; let and manage a contract for central monitoring and evaluation across all trial areas; and provide final approval for trial proposals that meet their requirements. Local areas will consider their trial requirements and objectives together with those set out by the department; work openly with e-scooter operators to understand how they can meet those requirements; and put in place proportionate processes to assess, select and ultimately procure services from operators.

Technical requirements

E-scooters are defined as being a motor vehicle that:

is fitted with no motor other than an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W and is not fitted with pedals that are capable of propelling the vehicle;

is designed to carry no more than one person;

has a maximum speed not exceeding 15.5 mph;

has 2 wheels, 1 front and 1 rear, aligned along the direction of travel;

has a mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55kg;

has means of directional control via the use of handlebars that are mechanically linked to the steered wheel; and

has means of controlling the speed via hand controls and a power control that defaults to the ‘off’ position.

The ‘no provision for seating’ requirement was removed so that e-scooters with seats can take part in the trial, providing they also comply with the other requirements. From the above, it can be seen that not all e-scooters will fit the requirements.

Insurance and driving licences

From a legal perspective, e-scooters in the trials will be treated as similarly as possible to electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs), with one important difference; e-scooters will continue to be classed as motor vehicles. This means that users of e-scooters in the trials must have insurance and a valid licence for the type of vehicle.

With regard to insurance, it is understood that rental operators will make sure a policy of insurance is in place covering the e-scooter’s use.

With regarding to licensing, to use an e-scooter in the trial, riders must have a category Q entitlement on their driving licence. Category Q is included on full or provisional licences for categories AM, A and B. If someone has one of these licences, they can ride an e-scooter in the trial (see below regarding foreign licences). Note also that provisional licence holders don’t need to display L-plates whilst riding an e-scooter in the trial.

Foreign licence holders can use e-scooters if they have a valid full licence from an EU or European Economic Area (EEA) country (so long as this does not prohibit them from driving low-speed mopeds and motorcycles), or, if they have a valid full licence from another country that entitles them to drive a small vehicle (for example, cars, mopeds or motorcycles) and they entered the UK within the last 12 months. Foreign provisional licence holders cannot use e-scooters in the trial.

Additional Rules

The minimum age to drive or ride a category Q vehicle is 16 – (see regulation 9 of the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999 and section 101 Road Traffic Act 1988). E-scooters in the trials don’t need to be registered, display number plates or be taxed, but must abide by the following rules: only one person can be carried; the e-scooters can’t be used to pull or tow anything; and they can only be used in the area where the trial is taking place. Please note that although the DfT recommends that users of e-scooters in the trials wear a cycle helmet, this isn’t a legal requirement.

Offences

As e-scooters are motor vehicles, users can be prosecuted for a range of offences. Some of the more common ones that may apply, are listed below, but it will obviously depend on the circumstances:

Dangerous driving – section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Careless driving – section 3 the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Driving or being in charge, when unfit through drink or drugs – section 4 the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Driving or being in charge, when over the prescribed limit (alcohol) – section 5 the Road Traffic Act 1988 (rider could be breath tested).

riving or being in charge, when over the specified limit (drugs) – section 5A the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Failing to comply with traffic signs / signals / markings – section 36 the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Driving other than in accordance with a driving licence – section 87 the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Failing to comply with accident obligations – section 170 the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Driving on the pavement – section 72 Highways Act 1835.

Driving without having proper control of the vehicle – regulation 104 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Driving while using a mobile phone – regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Future Legislation

During the trials, e-scooters will continue to be classed as motor vehicles. However, in the future, the Government may look to amend the law to treat e-scooters more like Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPCs), which are not classed as ‘motor vehicles’ in law (see section 189 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). As mentioned at the start of this article, the trials will ultimately guide the final decision as to whether the use of e-scooters will be lawful on our roads and if so, what legislation is needed to bring the change about.

In compiling this article, I would like to express my thanks to staff at the DfT for their help.

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