ESC0029

Written evidence submitted by West Yorkshire Police

There are no quick and easy answers to the numerous questions raised by the prospect of these becoming legal. I shall attempt to explore the call for written evidence on the points that are most relevant to Roads Policing.

1 – Whether the legislation for e-scooters is up to date and appropriate

The current legislation is primarily from the Road traffic Act of 1988 and is clear that the definition of a Mechanically propelled vehicle applies to an e scooter, then when used on a road brings it into the definition of a Motor vehicle. This has been confirmed in case law. So at first sight even though the law was drafted long before E scooters existed it is still up to date in the sense that it applies to them and deals with them.

The question of whether it is appropriate is another matter. In its current form it means that any E scooter needs to be registered, licenced, insured, have an MOT and its rider would need the right kind of driving licence. None of which is possible and results in the rider committing several offences by using it on a road or pavement as the footway comprises part of the road.

I am not qualified to consider the debate as to what benefits a legalisation of these devices would bring, although the need to consider them as a potentially “green” transport solution is obvious.

In order to do this there would have to be several changes to primary legislation. Looking at these in turn:

Vehicle excise and registration Act 1994 section 1 requires any Mechanically Propelled vehicle shall be subject to a vehicle excise duty licence if it is registered or used/kept on a public road.

This would clearly apply to any E scooter used on the road. Bringing them within the registration system might seem like a good idea but it would be very challenging to administer and the vehicles are totally unsuited to the display of a registration plate. Private ownership of these things would be very difficult to regulate for this reason alone. A system of rental use of E scooters could avoid some of these issues if they were hired through an APP which could identify the user. The rental companies would also have to be suitably regulated.

The Motor vehicle (Driving Licence) Regulations 1999 pursuant to section 87 (1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 requires the drivers/riders of motor vehicles to have the driving licence for the class of vehicle they are driving. This presents a problem for E scooters as the closest category would probably be an AM moped however these have to have a maximum speed over 25 km/h and under 45 km/h. The majority of E scooters used in other schemes abroad have been limited to 25km/h which gives scope for excluding them from the legal framework of licence requirements. It is submitted this idea has a great deal of risk. The requirement to have a licence means there is some training required and some certification of the user’s ability to use the roads safely as well as a minimum age requirement. A licence requirement also brings in the ability for enforcement to include points being put on the licence for misuse and represents a significant deterrent against improper use. If such vehicles are kept outside of licence requirements then any sanctions for misuse will be limited.

MOT/Type Approval/Vehicle standards – This is another area where there are clear risks for allowing privately owned potentially unregistered devices onto the road. There would be almost no scope for requirements as to the construction and maintenance of such vehicles with regards to the brakes, steering etc. The alternative model of rental use would at least allow for some regulation of the companies offering the hire of the E scooters. They would also be under pressure to maintain them properly by the commercial necessity of avoiding being sued for defective machines that caused damage or injury. This would also be the best way of ensuring that the speed of scooters is regulated. If they were privately owned it is inevitable that some people would seek to increase their maximum speed.

Requirement for insurance S143 Road traffic Act 1988 – This is perhaps one of the most important areas to address. These devices have already caused fatalities and there are several articles from around the world concerning groups calling for insurance for E scooters – for example in Paris. Any form of motorised transport generates a risk that will result in injury and damage being caused when things go wrong. Accordingly the law requires all motor vehicles to be insured. However because registering and licensing E scooters would be so difficult it is equally difficult to see how a system of insurance could work. Certainly the current UK system for insuring a specified car could not work, it would perhaps have to be a system where the user was insured as an individual in order to use any E scooter. This would still be difficult to administer. The rental model where all of the E scooters are owned by companies could avoid this difficulty as the firm would have to provide the insurance and bundle this in with the cost of the rent of the unit.

Sections 1,2,3 and 3A Road Traffic Act 1988, Standard of driving offences from Due Care to Death by Dangerous and everything in-between. It is noted that following a recent case of a death caused by a cyclist on a fixed wheel bike there is now a bill to apply all of these offences to pedal cyclists. It is submitted that the same logic would have to be applied to E scooters for the same reason as the danger of them causing injury if driven poorly is obvious.

Sections 4,5 and 5A Road traffic Act 1988 – Drink Drug Drive provisions. It is submitted that these offences should apply to E scooters as any risk they pose can only be magnified by using them while in drink. Whether a disqualification for this category of vehicle extends to disqualification for the whole license might be worthy of further discussion. Ultimately if they were excluded from Drink drug Drive provisions then they would become the transport of choice to go home from the pub which would have inevitable consequences.

Other Provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988 S 163 – The Police Officer power to stop such vehicles covers MPV’s so would cover an E scooter in any event, the enforcement options for failing to stop would only have teeth if allied to a driver licence scheme so a person could be disqualified from using them. Private ownership and potential theft of these devices also raises issues if they are involved in crime and fail to stop. It is hard to see how the Police could do anything to safely stop a fleeing rider of such a device. Only allowing rental use could have some value in preventing E scooter crime as they could be remotely disabled by the rental firm and the user could be identified through the hire.

Section 170 – Requirement to give details in event of a Road Traffic Collision – Applies to MPV’s so would include E scooters but again without registration/licencing for private ownership is unlikely to be enforceable as no one would stop at the scene and with no identifying features they could not be traced. If a rental model was used there would have to be a requirement on the rental companies that they would be able to identify the user at a given time when required by the Police under the law. This is essential when considered in conjunction with section 172:

Section 172 – Duty to give details of driver in certain circumstances – If the driver has committed Road Traffic Act offences then the relevant person has to be able to supply details when required by the Police. A Rental company must therefore keep such records and supply them to the Police. Under Data Protection requirements they would also have to inform their customers that their details will be retained and shared with the Police in the event of them committing an offence – which would be a good way of keeping misuse down.

Further Considerations re Section 172The application of section 172 is wide ranging and includes all of the drink drive and offences regarding standard of driving. Currently all of these would apply to E scooters under the definition of a Motor vehicle.

Con and Use provision under RTA 1988This has been partly discussed under vehicle standards but the requirement to wear helmets needs to be considered in its own right. Under Rental models there has been schemes where a helmet is attached to the scooter but I cannot see how this could work in the post Covid 19 world. A difficulty of the rental model is how to make helmets a requirement as it significantly detracts from the convenience of the rental if you have to carry your own helmet around for the rest of your day. The alternative is to allow rental without helmets but this has obvious safety implications. If privately owned E scooters were allowed on the road then it would be easier to require helmets to be worn by such users.

A further consideration on the construction of E Scooters would be the question of lights. Without lights they could not be used legally or safely at night. Private ownership would cause all sorts of difficulties in terms of how requirements for lights could be enforced, both at manufacture and in terms of maintaining them. The rental model could avoid this by keeping them unlit and restricting their use to daylight hours. This would have obvious knock on effects if they are being proposed as a commuting solution in this country as there are long periods of the year when the days are so short that the E scooters would become fairly useless. If we allowed a rental model then it is likely that the scooters would only be available seasonally as the risk of using them in winter is probably too great for the company to risk trying to make money with the reduced journeys available.

This is not an exhaustive list of the legislative provisions that would have to be considered but it covers most of the main ones. In summary on this point the major consideration is whether an E scooter remains a motor vehicle as it is currently. If it does then a number of offences and issues follow that are probably only likely to be addressed by a rental model of use. If it were to be excluded from the definition of motor vehicle and treated in a similar manner to an EAPC then the driving licence and insurance aspects instantly become a massive gap in the regulation of their use.

 

2 – Where in the Urban environment e scooters could be used?

Firstly the idea of using these machines on the pavement or footway has to be discarded. They are very quiet when used and travelling at 15 mph are entirely unsuited to mixing with people on foot. Vulnerable pedestrians would rightly be terrified and the potential for accidents far too great.

It would also convey entirely the wrong message to the users of these devices because being restricted to the pavement would imply they are not proper vehicles and this would be interpreted by some as meaning that the rider did not need the same degree of care.

Pavements are totally unsuited to motor transport, in many places the doors of shops or doors of terraced houses open straight out onto a pavement. The idea that someone could be riding past at 15 mph as a person steps out is obviously dangerous.

Bearing in mind that it is an offence to ride a pedal cycle on a pavement it is impossible to justify allowing an E scooter to ride on a pavement instead.

The second question about using cycle lanes sounds workable at first but still has some issues. Many cycle lanes that have been marked at the side of the carriageway are little used. This may be because of the number of grates and the amount of debris that accumulates in them as the main carriageway is effectively “swept” by the traffic. The small size of the wheels of E scooters make the debris and grates a far bigger hazard to a rider and it would be expected that many users might avoid cycle lanes for that reason.

There are also some cycle lanes that are partly in the carriageway and partly on lanes which are part of the “pavement” but marked as separated from the footway. Some of these weave behind bus stops with the potential for foot traffic and traffic in the cycle lanes coming into conflict. Regulating this to keep E scooter use safe could be difficult due to their potential speeds.

The idea of putting motorised vehicles in a cycle lane might not be popular with cyclists who may see it as another hazard for them to have to contend with when they are already vulnerable road users.

 

This leaves the question of whether they belong on the roads just like any other motor vehicle. Anyone on an E scooter will be a very vulnerable road user as the vehicle will offer them no protection whatsoever.

The dynamics of the vehicle will make it very hard for it to brake sharply as this will have a tendency to pitch the rider forwards as their centre of gravity will be much higher than that of the machine they are riding.

Scooters are totally unsuited to having any mirrors fitted and because of the way they are ridden the rider is not likely to be capable of giving any signals to indicate any intention of changing direction.

As previously mentioned requiring helmets of riders of rented scooters also presents a difficulty but if riders are allowed to ride without a helmet then their injury potential in a collision is vastly increased.

Inclement weather will pose a challenge as their handling will suffer in the wet and because of the balance required the riders will be susceptible to gusts of wind.

E scooters would be the smallest mode of transport on the road which would mean their users are also the hardest to see. Many cyclists wear quite visible purpose designed clothing. An E scooter rider will be wearing their everyday clothes and while this is part of their appeal it is highly unlikely to assist in improving their visibility to other road users. Consequently they will be especially vulnerable around large vehicles which have issues with visibility – Articulated lorries etc.

It is admitted that any form of transport has a level of risk and inevitably result in injuries. For the above reasons it is to be expected that E scooter users should be expected to be more vulnerable and therefore more likely to be killed or injured than other road users.

Having considered safety there is the further consideration that has been highlighted by Rental schemes in cities around the world. This is the issue of where the scooters are to be left when the user has finished with them.

Many schemes have inbuilt requirements for users to send photos of how the scooter has been left to ensure they have been responsible and potentially bar them from using the App if they do not leave it responsibly. Having docking stations or zones for the scooters to be left in would help. Whatever the solution there would have to be something to ensure the scooters were not just left littering the streets causing a hazard for vulnerable pedestrians.

The questions on compulsory requirements for safety equipment and build quality have been discussed above.

The issues highlight the tension in how E scooters could be accommodated within the law. Are they to be a full “motor vehicle” and subject to all of the rules of the road, excluded from these rules or something in the middle where certain rules apply but not others.

For all of the above points they cannot be legalised and escape regulation, it would be chaos. As regards a middle ground where only some rules apply it is submitted that this is a poor solution. The simplest argument to support this is to look at how much case law there is on classification of vehicles and the amount of products that have tried to circumvent the rules.

If we are to invent a middle ground to accommodate E scooters as a mode of transport it will mean that any version of vehicle which fits whatever definition is used would now be lawful to use. This is an invitation that will lead to a proliferation of transport devices which would be impossible to Police.

This leaves only the solution to make them much like any other motor vehicle and subject to all of the rules of the road. In order to ensure some version of manufacture and safety requirements it is submitted that a restriction to rental versions through licenced firms would be the only possible way forward. This would ensure they are insured, maintained and gives a mechanism to identify the user through the App used to rent them. This could make enforcement viable.

That said there is no doubt that whatever the benefits of E scooters, they will come at a price, they will add to the numbers of those Killed and Seriously Injured and will change the way our road network operates permanently.

May 2020