How to safely integrate electric scooters in traffic

The UK has yet to introduce legislation to legalise the use of private electric scooters on the street although there are already around 1 million vehicles in operation in the country. Rules in effect in other countries may show the way forward.

E-scooters can be an attractive alternative form of transportation — they are light, fast, occupy little space and don’t produce exhaust gas, therefore helping to reduce pollution in city centres. But despite the rapid increase in popularity over the past two years, e-scooters (still) remain illegal to ride in public areas in the UK, unless they are part of an approved pilot scheme. The UK government is considering changing the law and to facilitate the decision, the Department for Transport enabled rental e-scooter trials to take place on public roads and cycle lanes across the UK. E-scooters are considered “motorised vehicles” which means that it’s illegal to ride them on pavements, cycle lanes or in pedestrianised areas. Technically they would have to be operated on public roads which would require them to be registered, taxed and insured just like any other motor vehicle.

Fun but risky

Although the use of e-scooters on public roads remains illegal, their sale is not. This situation is turning many otherwise law-abiding people into criminals while the (unregulated) use of e-scooters is a potential source of serious harm. A study by Transport for London (TfL) (opens a new window), based on US data, suggested that e-scooters are considerably riskier than cycling. It found riders needed hospital treatment after accidents every 3.1 years on average, with many suffering head or neck injuries. The number of cyclists killed or seriously hurt in London was 2.7 per one million journeys “or roughly 100 times fewer injuries than expected in US e-scooter studies”.

There were 1,359 casualties in collisions involving e-scooters in the UK in 2021 compared to 484 in 2020, according to Government statistics (opens a new window). There were nine killed in collisions involving e-scooters ­ all of whom were e-scooter riders ­ compared to 1 in 2020.

But e-scooters are unlikely to disappear from UK’s roads anytime soon, so the best way forward would be to create clear rules for their operation on public roads.

The rules

Several countries have implemented legislation that sets parameters for e-scooters to operate in traffic. There are some variances regarding the specific rules in relation to:

  • the space where e-scooters can operate (e.g. roads, bike lanes, pavements, pedestrian areas and 30 km/hour areas);

  • compliance with safety rules (e.g. helmet, lights and turn signals);

  • age requirements for users;

  • the need to reflect local government competencies in micro-mobility management;

  • training requirements (e.g. driving licence).

In Belgium, for example, rules state that e-scooters can be ridden on public roads as long as their speed is limited to 25 km/hour, mirroring the requirement for e-bikes. Their use is prohibited on the pavement, restricted to carrying one person only, and scooters with a saddle are banned.

In Spain, e-scooters are also limited to a maximum speed of 25km/hour, but they must comply with the same laws as cars and motorbike riders. The minimum age is 16, the use of a helmet is mandatory, wearing headphones or riding on pavements/ interurban roads, highways, highway crossings and urban tunnels is prohibited.

In Germany, riders must use bike lanes or if none are available, the street. E-scooters should not exceed 20 km/hour, need a valid insurance for light vehicles, a vehicle identification number, a manufacturer’s data plate and the vehicles need to meet the requirements for deceleration devices, lighting, audible warning, and other safety measures.

It is likely that similar legislation will be introduced soon in the UK. Due to the surging popularity of the vehicles this will mean that other road users will need to prepare for a further increase in the numbers of e-scooters, but a clear set of rules for their operation should help reducing the risk of accidents.

For further information, please contact:

Steve Vachre, Motor Practice Leader

T: +44 (0)161 828 3367