Government drafting plans to allow privately owned e-scooters to be allowed on public roads
You can understand the calls to ban these strange new machines. Our roads aren’t designed for them, they seem incompatible with existing vehicles, and there are serious safety questions and alarming reports of dangerous behaviour from their users.
No, not e-scooters: I’m referring to the outrage and concern caused by the arrival of the motor car on the UK’s roads in the 1890s that led to sustained calls for them to be banned, as reported in the pages of The Autocar.
So perhaps the parallels between the early days of the automobile and the current early days of personal electric transport (PET) machines might make you reconsider if you believe that e-scooters should be banned in the UK. I get it: before moving from Autocar to edit Move Electric, I was an e-scooter sceptic, too.
But writing about e-scooters (and every other form of electric transport) for Move Electric has made me realise that the arguments for their legalisation – in a controlled fashion – are compelling.
For starters, much like the motor car in the 1890s, they’re already here and they’re not going away. There are thought to be more than 750,000 private e-scooters in the UK, despite the current laws banning such machines from being used on public roads.
They’re popular, especially with younger users. In the right circumstances – popping to the local shops, going to visit a friend, commuting from the train station to the office – they’re an effective form of transport that could replace a small number of short car trips, reducing congestion and pollution. And, frankly, at a time when even old used cars are getting increasingly expensive to buy and run, they represent an affordable form of transport for young people.
But without regulations, private e-scooters sold (legally) in this country don’t have to meet any defined standards. By legalising e-scooters, the government can introduce those standards. The rental e-scooters run in government-approved trials by companies such as Lime and Superpedestrian show what to expect: a 15.5mph speed limit, and safety features such as lights, suspension and large brakes. Expect acoustic warning systems, too. Data shows that rental e-scooters are dramatically less likely to be involved in accidents than private machines.
There have been cases of irresponsible e-scooter usage, including machines being ridden at excessive speed on pavements – but those almost all involve private machines that aren’t being used legally in the first place. You don’t judge all car drivers by the idiot who gets caught doing 150mph on the motorway.
Rental e-scooter schemes have clear rules over where they can be used – and they can’t be ridden on pavements, which is a major concern for many. Having those same rules applied to private e-scooters will make it clearer for everyone where they can and can’t be ridden, and make enforcement far easier.
And yes, there are a growing number of accidents involving e-scooters, and there are some questions over their safety. There are genuine issues to be addressed involving vulnerable pedestrians and other road users.
But those issues exist with cars and bikes and other forms of transport already on the streets of the UK. And, frankly, the number of serious car accidents vastly dwarfs the number involving e-scooters.
There are questions and issues that will arise from legalising e-scooters, particularly concerning how they interact with other forms of vehicles. They might require education campaigns and adjustments in how city streets in the UK are laid out. It won’t be easy, and it will require everyone – e-scooter riders and other road users – to be prepared to adapt and accommodate.
But much like the motor car in the 1890s, there are real benefits to legalising e-scooters.