New and disruptive technology has always unsettled the national psyche; Much of the reaction to e-scooters technology echoes the moral panic that convinced folk the first railway passengers would die spontaneously when trains reached 50 mph. However, those horrified by the risks posed by electric scooters, while at the same time overlooking the road danger caused by cars, are guilty of cognitive dissonance.
Don’t get us wrong – it’s clear e-scooters must be subject to regulation, but the way the technology is portrayed in the media is little more than a straw man argument to distract from the major threats on the roads. We need a rational approach to road danger reduction; the greater the threat to health and environment, the more severe the restrictions.
Take for example the technology being used to govern some of the current trials of e-scooters on UK roads. It includes ‘High Accuracy Location Technology’ which is accurate to with 10cm; ‘Rapid Geofence Detection’ which activates in 0.3 seconds and the ‘Dangerous Riding Detection’, which warns of unsafe behaviours in real time.
Transport journalist Carlton Reid has been quick to highlight the double standards: “…if all this incredibly accurate safety tech is available for slow speed e-scooters why the holy hell isn’t it already included on high speed motor vehicles?”
Stranger still is the absence of bog standard data recorders in motorised vehicles – or to be more accurate, the absence of a willingness to share the information of this sort. EU law has mandated the fitting of black box data recorders in cars built after 2022, but such information is already collected by many cars on the road today. It’s just not shared by manufacturers.
We’ll only achieve safe, liveable streets when we deal with the root causes of road danger dispassionately and proportionately.
Electric scooters and UK law
The UK is the last major European economy where e-scooters are still banned to use anywhere except on private land. However, the legal status of e-scooters isn’t stopping them from being bought in huge numbers.
Nobody knows for certain how many e-scooters have been sold in the UK but Halfords has seen its own sales more than double over lockdown and it believes there is huge latent demand. When the retailer polled 2,000 adults, 33% said they’d would consider using an e-scooter for shorter journeys if they became legal to use and 28% would consider swapping their car for an e-scooter to ‘benefit the environment.
Under current British law, e-scooter riders face a £300 fixed-penalty notice and six points on their driving licence for using them on the road or pavement. The law classifies e-scooters as motor vehicles, but their legal status is further hampered by the fact they do not have a seat which is currently a requirement of all road going vehicles. That means that with the exception of the various trial schemes dotted around the country, you can’t ride an e-scooter on a public road, on pavements or cycle lanes. You also have to be 18 or over to use one.
When will e-scooters be legal on UK roads?
Following the current e-scooter trials, which run until March 2022, there’s likely to be lengthy discussion over whether to make legal to use on the road. it seems likely that eventually e-scooters will be classified in the same way as electric bicycles. In other words, legal to use on public roads and cycle lanes and with no requirement for registration or insurance, but limited to a speed of 15.5mph. It’s unclear whether helmets will be mandatory as it would hardly be practicable for e-scooter riders to wear motorcycle helmets. There have been concerns raised that a surge in e-scooters would discourage folk from walking or cycling. However credible this argument, it’s more likely that e-scooters will draw drivers from their cars for short trips.
Are e-scooters dangerous?
Department for Transport statistics, Reported Road casualties Great Britain, annual report: 2020, reveal there was one death, 128 serious injuries and 355 slight injuries last year. Given nobody knows how many miles were travelled by e-scooter it’s impossible to quantify the risk associated with riding an e-scooter. However, in common with other vulnerable road users, it’s likely that the main danger faced by e-scooter riders is the drivers of heavier, faster vehicles.
Much faith is being out in electric vehicles, but electrifying cars will not address the problems of traffic congestion, road danger, urban sprawl and wasted space for parking. There’s no doubt that e-scooters have a valuable role to play in coaxing drivers from their cars – the current uncertainty over their future legal status does little more than put that potential on hold.
The ethical choice
The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance, breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.
The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.