He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice… and he’s scrunching up his list and tearing his silvery hair out. Never mind who’s been naughty or nice; for anyone who’s hoping for one of the season’s ‘must have’ toys, spare a thought for the old man in Lapland struggling to get to grips with the various rules across different jurisdictions on these most polarising of gifts. The electric scooter may well keep Santa’s lawyers, as well as Santa’s elves, busy this Yule.

E-Scooter regulations across borders

As things stand today in Scotland, it is in fact illegal to ride privately owned e-scooters on public roads; a position that is shared across the border in England. However, as of yesterday, 5th December, a new law was introduced for e-scooter hire firms in England which requires all new and existing members of ongoing e-scooter hire trials to provide their name and driving licence number. Meanwhile, E-scooter providers will be required to ensure they have a robust system for obtaining and storing this information.

Whilst a driving licence is already a requisite for anyone wishing to ride an e-scooter, riders aren’t always asked for proof of their licence. The new legislation will not guarantee the possibility of users breaching these rules, but it is hoped that being readily identified by the police will encourage riders to comply with the laws as far as they exist and increase overall road safety.

E-Scooter Laws in England and Scotland

With the ink still drying on the new legislation, is the attempt at tightening up the laws in England and improving the safety of these two-wheeled toys a progressive measure or is the very idea of encouraging more riders through the existing rental system a nightmare before Christmas?

The critical questions we should be asking in response to this north of the borderare: what effect might this have on the safety of e-scooter riding; will this make the hire of e-scooters more palatable to the general public; and, as a hitherto e-scooter hire free zone, what do Scots feel about the prospect of more e-scooters being introduced here when we consider the impacts of “e-scooter mania” across the rest of Europe?

Addressing the Growing Concerns of E-Scooter Riders

Dealing with safety first, e-scooter riders are considered vulnerable road users because they are not protected by a vehicle body in the same way as motorists and they tend to be harder for drivers to spot on the road, much like cyclists. It’s not surprising to hear therefore the rising number of injuries and fatalities of e-scooter riders across the UK. Recent Government data shows that in 2022, there were 1,402 collisions involving e-scooters in the UK and 12 deaths caused as a result. However, if you dig into the data further, you’ll find that only 341 of these collisions included the e-scooter with no other vehicles involved. Clearly e-scooter safety is a wider issue than the riders themselves and as with other vulnerable road users, more must be done to improve overall road safety.

Unwrapping E-Scooter Legislation

As a means of improving the image of e-scooters for hire, the new legislation will certainly have quite a hill to climb. Back in July 2020, the initial trials of rental e-scooters in England were greeted by some transport experts with the excitement of Christmas morning itself. Could these be the clean, green and user-friendly future of urban transport? However, recent studies suggest that across Europe sentiment towards e-scooters has soured, and I must admit, any time I’ve visited an e-scooter-filled city this year, I’ve been struck by the blight of abandoned scooters in so many public spaces, and how unsettling it can be when a careless and often distracted rider whizzes by with only centimeters to spare.

E-Scooters’ Environmental Impact and Perception

One of the biggest arguments for e-scooters over motorised vehicles has traditionally been their eco-friendliness. Setting their safety failings aside, does their important mitigation for more harmful forms of transport mean that we should all expect our stockings to bulge with e-scooters this year – or does Father Christmas himself perhaps harbor suspicions that e-scooters are not as green as we think?
If rental e-scooters are used to replace motorised vehicle transport in full, then yes, they are undoubtedly more environmentally friendly than a petrol/diesel powered vehicle. And of course, there are the added benefits of people getting out for a ride in the fresh air and socialising with friends, regardless of whether they’ve ditched their cars for good or only for a short while. That said, e-scooters still have environmental impacts which must be considered.

The e-scooter rental services involve the deployment and retrieval of e-scooters every day, most likely by motorised vehicles. At a hardware level, the manufacture and repair of e-scooters all of which use batteries, carry a high environmental burden that needs to be recognised. While there is scope for e-scooters playing a part in our fight against climate change, it must not be forgotten that two-wheeled zero-emissions travel such as traditional cycling still beats low-emissions travel pedals-down.

Lessons from Europe’s Changing Stance

This uncomfortable truth, allied with general safety concerns, has meant that in recent months, cities elsewhere in Europe have decided that the e-scooter experiment has simply run out of road. In September this year across the channel, Paris became the first European city to ban rented electric scooters, just five years after the French capital had been one of the most enthusiastic early adopters of the vehicles. A rising number of injuries and three well-publicised fatalities led to a referendum in which 90% of those who took part recorded a resounding ‘oui’ in favour of the ban.

Can E-Scooters Contribute to Sustainable and Safe Transport?”

As a personal injury lawyer concerned with promoting safe, active travel, I’m open to the idea of e-scooters playing a part in our sustainable and safe transport network of the future. If e-scooters can help promote a culture of active travel and encourage the government to invest in lanes for vulnerable road users and other infrastructure projects that support the use of active travel modes, that, in my mind, can only be a positive thing.

However, only time will tell whether the new law across the border will be enough to meaningfully improve the safety and all-important perception of e-scooters. Considering the serious bumps in the road that its more widespread roll-out has experienced elsewhere, it seems like the UK Government and its proposed e-scooter regulation still has some way to go. Scottish Ministers (and Santa) will doubtless be interested observers to see where this goes from here.

Jo Clancy

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