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E-Scooters: the menace of our time

As I walked down the road yesterday the silent menace arrived. A child, not more than 12 years old, riding an e-scooter down the middle of the road. An odd event? No. A common event? Yes, it’s an increasing problem. Oblivious to the risks both to herself and other road users. It’s time to take the problem of the supply, sales and illegal use of e-scooters in hand.

E-scooters are a popular mode of transportation in the UK, but they can be dangerous if they are not used safely. E-scooters are silent with a very narrow profile. This makes them difficult to be seen by pedestrians and road users. They are also unstable and can easily go out of control. E-scooters often do not have the safety equipment such as mirrors, lights, turn signals, tail and stop lights seen on other vehicles. This can make it difficult for other road users to see and avoid them. E-scooters can also travel at speeds of up to 15 mph.  If a rider loses control, this can be very dangerous, both to the user, other vehicles and pedestrians. Injuries can be life threatening and leave the injured with permanent disabilities. There is also a lack of highway infrastructure to accommodate e-scooters. This means that e-scooters often share the road with cycles, motorcycles, cars and wheelchairs. This can be dangerous for both e-scooter riders, road users and pedestrians. Finally, e-scooters are often ridden by novices who do not have formal training or personal safety equipment. They generally have a lack of road sense and/or ignore Highway Code rules designed to keep all road users safe. Having a licence to operate a car or motorcycle, doesn’t qualify anyone to ride an e-scooter. E-scooter riders should always wear a helmet and other safety gear, obey the Highway Code, and be aware of their surroundings. Take a moment to watch e-scooter riders and you’ll soon see how these requirements, incurring severe penalties for law-abiding road users who act this way, are often simply ignored.

The UK Government and Local Government Authorities have a rosy view of e-scooters. They look at the potential upside gains of:

  • Reducing traffic congestion and pollution
  • Providing a more convenient and affordable way to travel short distances
  • Encouraging physical activity

They conveniently ignore, or minimise, the serious downside risks of this form of personal transport.

The UK Government has gone further by initially authorising several ‘trial’ rental schemes. Many adopted by local politicians, keen to trumpet their ‘green’ credentials. These early schemes were then developed into 31 currently operational rental schemes. These are operated by six private companies in the UK. By December 2022 there were a total of around 20,000 e-scooters available for the public to rent, supporting an estimated 1.8 million journeys. The schemes are operating in a variety of cities and towns across England, Scotland, and Wales. Defined as novel powered transporters, e-scooters are legally classified as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1988. The 31 approved rental schemes are widely seen as part of an integrated transport system to aid UK decarbonisation targets. However, despite knowing the dangers these vehicles present to other road users and pedestrians, wearing any kind of protective gear is only advised, not mandatory. Skateboard riders tend to wear more protective equipment than e-scooter riders. This ‘advice’ for those using e-scooters  is limited to wearing a helmet. This may change when legislation is enacted around 2025. In the meantime the hard pressed NHS and Police services are left to repair the injuries and enforce the limited legal responsibilities of e-scooter riders. Checking the renter has a valid UK driving licence requires linking rental company computer systems to the DVLA. I’ve not seen any reports where this has been implemented, but I might be wrong. 

It is not illegal to sell e-scooters. Renters of e-scooters need a valid UK driving licence and insurance. Whilst an e-scooter is legally limited to a driven speed of 15.5mph, gravity, as many cyclists know, can propel them to much higher speeds. Fifteen miles per hour is a deceivingly moderate pace that hides the severe consequences of accidents at such speeds. After all, you can die from falling over and hitting a hard object. Without the protective cocoon of a car or protective gear of a motorbike rider, e-scooter  riders are perilously exposed to the elements, pedestrians and other vehicles, leaving them vulnerable to life-threatening injuries with sometimes fatal outcomes.

Compounding these risks is the inadequacy of the current highway infrastructure to accommodate e-scooters. Their impact on designated shared cycle/pedestrian, dedicated bike lanes and road-sharing systems is still awaiting evaluation. Increasing the number of e-scooter riders, especially during times of congestion, would mean that any highway infrastructure could become very crowded with unstable, accident-prone e-scooter riders. As e-scooters can easily share space with much larger and faster vehicles, this also increases the likelihood of hazardous encounters and collisions. Current e-scooter design and rental schemes have not been evaluated under different climatic conditions. When the weather changes, cyclists and motorcyclists know that changing the way we ride is vital to preserve safe progress. E-scooters have small wheels making them much more likely to become uncontrollable in inclement conditions. Also, the normal hazards of fuel spillage, discarded litter and animal excrement will destabilise the e-scooter.  
The widespread disregard for traffic rules and the Highway Code among e-scooter riders exacerbates the dangers they pose. Many riders lack road sense and fail to adhere to traffic regulations, further contributing to the chaotic and hazardous conditions on UK roads. The potential consequences of these inherent dangers cannot be understated. Lives can be shattered and families devastated by the seemingly innocent allure of e-scooters. For a mode of transportation that promises convenience, reduced pollution and ease of progress on a journey, it carries a heavy burden of responsibility, one that requires strict regulations, comprehensive safety measures and enforcement to ensure the well-being of all road users.

In conclusion, while e-scooters may offer a novel and eco-friendly way of commuting, their inherent dangers loom large over the streets of the UK. The lack of stability, absence of safety equipment and inadequate infrastructure create a perfect storm, putting riders and pedestrians at grave risk. If left unchecked, the promise of these silent machines could transform into a tragic reality and those benefits will never be fully realised. The 12-year-old child? Well, her family and herself remain ignorant of the possible consequences of such reckless behaviour.

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