Is it time to call an end to e-scooters trials in the UK?

E-scooters have, at times, been hailed as the saviour in micro mobility and transportation. The way to reduce cars from our towns and cities whilst decarbonising travel. But with less than two weeks to go before Paris calls its public vote to decide their fate on the 2 April, is it time to rethink the future of e-scooters within the UK?  

I think it’s fair to say that e-scooters are the marmite (other brands of yeast extract spreads are also available) of micro mobility. Love them or hate them they are certainly a talking point and have caused significant controversy across the globe since their introduction. Some countries in Europe have a very laissez-faire attitude to them with little to no regulation where they are seen in the same context as a bike. In the UK, the Government chose to undertake trials across towns and cities to understand the impact of them before the future of the mode is decided.  

Initially the Government had planned to trial e-scooters as part of their Future Transport Zones. However, in May 2020 the Department for Transport (DfT) launched an urgent public transport consultation to begin the trials more quickly and in more areas than initially anticipated. The DfT’s consultation sought views on how the trials could operate, vehicle design, speed and power of the scooters and the rules and regulations that should be incorporated as part of the trials. The consultation ran for two weeks and received over 2,000 responses. The consultation supported the DfT to shape the trial regulations and guidelines. They opened expressions of interest from Local Authorities to run trials which resulted in 32 areas operating trials across England in cities and towns to understand the different operating models and nuances in those areas. The trials allow users to rent e-scooters and are currently the only legal way to ride an e-scooter on the public highway.  

The initial trials that began on 4 July 2020 were anticipated to run until 30 November 2021 however this was extended multiple times and is now due to end on 30 May 2024. The extensions allow for further evidence to be gathered, and to build upon the findings of the recent evaluation report. Dare I say that there is another debate around issues within the Government and a lack of leadership in making the decisions and effecting new legislation. Whichever the reasoning behind the 26-month extension, it has caused some difficulties for the operators of the schemes with budgets stretched way beyond their initial planned commitment. The uncertainty of the future of e-scooters has led to a lack of investment, a hiatus for many schemes and some operators choosing to pull away from the UK.  I think it's fair to suggest that the initial bidding or tendering for trial areas by operators was linked to loss-leading investment budgets and an almost ‘land grab’ approach to gain a foothold in the UK with operators anticipating a short trial period and then roll-out beyond.  

The private scooter market is scaling which has little regulation or should I say limited enforcement of current legislation. It was anticipated that the trials would ascertain the demand for this mode of transport and inform the regulations and safety measures for any future legalisation and for private e-scooter use however with the rapidly expanding private market there are growing concerns as to how this can be managed, understood and regulated.   

To comprehensively understand the growing concerns, we are inviting users and non-users to fill out a quick survey to voice their opinions on the potential safety solutions.  


What have the trials shown so far?  

To date, research from the trials has developed some interesting findings here in the UK. The evaluation showed a higher rate of accidents, compared to equivalent bike usage, which may be linked to the novice use of e-scooters. In the year ending June 2021, there were 931 accidents involving e-scooters (including private e-scooter usage). Whilst many of these did not lead to injury, around 250 were considered serious. The trials have highlighted several safety challenges including road infrastructure, helmet usage and rider visibility.  

The trials are proving e-scooters as a valuable mode of transport with over 14.5 million trips undertaken by December 2021. They offer new transportation options with higher uptake by people of low incomes and ethnic minorities whilst providing an alternative to the private car and are being used on regular trips including commuting. 


What are the current regulations for private e-scooters?  

It is currently not illegal to own or use a private e-scooter, they are currently categorised as ‘powered transporters’ and this means that they are currently covered by the same laws and regulations as motor vehicles. This means that they can be used on private land with the landowner's agreement. They cannot be used on footpaths, pavements, cycle tracks, cycle lanes or spaces dedicated to pedal cycles.  

To lawfully use public roads they must pay tax, conform to technical standards, including licensing, registration and driver testing. They must also have insurance. It is therefore virtually impossible to comply with these stipulations meaning that it is a criminal offence to use them on the road. However, if my experience is anything to go by this is already happening. On a recent trip home on a Saturday evening in rural Gateshead I passed 3 private e-scooters on the main road within 5 minutes of each other.  


But do people even realise that private e-scooters are virtually illegal? Are people aware of the rules and regulations?  

I have personally had many discussions with colleagues, friends, and family who have no idea that private e-scooters are technically illegally in the UK. It’s not that long ago that they were up there on the ‘Christmas list’ of many children in the UK. The fact that most scooters have been seen as a child’s toy previously makes this new mode understandably attractive to younger audiences. Personally, I feel that there has been a lack of awareness and campaigning to highlight the rules around both private and rental scooters. I certainly wasn’t aware that they were almost unusable when my daughter pestered me for one a few years back. I just chose not to buy her one as I was concerned about the safety aspects of a young child on a motorised device.  

My experience is that many people simply aren’t aware of the stringent rules currently around use. This includes hire or rental scooters where you need to use your driver's licence to ride. If you do use the scooter in an illegal or anti-social way the police can enforce or trace it back and you can be fined and even lose your licence depending on the offence. There have been instances of people ‘losing’ their licences after being drunk in charge on an e-scooter and cases where parents have ‘lent their licences’ to their child. Where this has led to an accident the parents are liable, not the operators, as they have acted in a fraudulent manner and invalidated their hire agreement and relevant insurance. This then leads to a complicated and messy civil case.  

In addition, there are currently no rules or regulations in place for the purchase of e-scooters, meaning that anyone can technically purchase one. There is a directive from the Government to retailers stating that they need to highlight the rules when selling them. However, it’s fair to say that quite often you must search for this notification, and it is not always a prominent feature. I have also heard reports of mystery shopping by enforcement agencies where they’ve been told ‘don’t worry no one enforces the rules anyway….’.  

It appears that people are becoming more aware of restrictions around e-scooters but generally only after highly publicised news campaigns or incidents. Sadly, last year a lady lost her life after being hit by a 14-year-old boy riding a private e-scooter in Rainworth, Nottinghamshire. It was reported that the boy had been illegally riding on the pavement when he collided with Mrs Davis. He had only owned the scooter a few days and had little experience of how to safely ride one. What is interesting is the family's response. They are understandably horrified by the incident are still coming to terms with their loss, and they want to ensure this tragedy does not happen again. But rather than calling for an all-out ban on e-scooters, Mrs Davis’ daughter wishes to make people aware of the laws related to e-scooter use and the harm they can cause if ridden in an illegal, dangerous or anti-social manner.  


So if the rules are unenforceable then what is the point? Do we really need stringent rules for e-scooters? Do we just need to be clearer on what the rules are? 

These are all very relevant questions and if you ask around, you’ll get a very mixed view from ‘ban them outright’ to ‘they shouldn’t be regulated and should be treated in the same way as a bike’.  

A key concern with e-scooters is speed, trials schemes are limited to a maximum of 15.5mph and users must have a driver's licence or provisional meaning they have some level of ‘road craft’ knowledge.  

Yet the private market is currently a ‘free-for-all’. With private scooters capable of speeds of up to 30mph and some exceeding this figure. As there are no accepted technical specifications for private e-scooters it means that you can have scooters capable of 30mph with poor quality brakes, small wheels, and less stability than hire scooters. A quick search on Alibaba, highlights this issue, scooters from $99 that can do 31kmph just over 19 mph with tiny 8.5inch wheels. Or if I upgrade to $296, I can get one that does 60mph! I mean, can you imagine doing 60mph on an e-scooter? What level of braking system, safety equipment, and stopping distances do you need?  

My colleague and I recently trialled the Neuron e-scooters in Newcastle and as first-time riders we only got close to the top speed, and I can assure you that seemed rather quick in a city centre whilst trying to navigate a poor road and cycle lane infrastructure with very busy traffic systems.  

Now I am sure it won't have escaped your attention that potholes are the UK’s latest nuisance with reports in the media and even a ‘Mr. Pothole’ who is the new face of campaigning to resolve them across the UK. Now you may be thinking why on earth is she talking about potholes… but there is a link. For even the sturdiest of e-scooters within trial areas potholes are a significant danger. Head injuries linked to potholes and e-scooter use are a key concern. If you were to hit a pothole at a maximum of 15.5mph it could lead to a significant injury. But you hit a pothole at 30 or 60mph on a private e-scooter then I don’t even want to attempt to consider your survival rate.  


So why are ED-GE interested in e-scooters?  

At Edge Innovation we have been working on an e-scooter safety project with industry experts Micro Mobility Partners to design innovative approaches to solve safety-related issues associated with e-scooter use. We believe that e-scooters can be part of the future transport offer within the local transport strategies. However, we are also aware that things need to change to make that happen in a safe manner. Whilst I won't detail our findings to date as I would really appreciate more opinions and thoughts (we have a handy survey where you can share your thoughts).   

The research work we are undertaking is funded by the UK government, administered by UKRI, to investigate how e-scooters can be made safer overall. This involves working with a range of organisations including commissioners such as Local Authorities, e-scooter operators, road safety groups and users.  

The main safety issues that we are investigating includes tandem riding (more than one person riding an e-scooter at one time), inaccurate geofencing which impacts pavement riding, speed restrictions and signalling concerns. The potential beneficiaries of this project include e-scooter users, pedestrians, Local Authorities, operators, and government. The aim is to reduce pedestrians’ fear of e-scooters, reduce anti-social riding, make rider behaviours more predictable to drivers and give users more confidence to use e-scooters.   

In discussions so far it is clear that rider behaviour and public perception of scooters are hugely crucial elements. Therefore, working to really understand how people interact with existing e-scooter trials, whether they are regular users or not and why not. In doing so we hope to be able to bring forward some new solutions to increase safety for all whilst identifying ways to influence future e-scooter designs to improve safety, allowing more widespread understanding and adoption.

We are looking for your input on the use of e-scooters and are inviting you to fill out a quick survey to voice your concerns or opinions on potential safety solutions.  You can complete the survey here: 


Thank you for reading, Susan!