I want to change how I commute to work. Why are electric scooters illegal and will this change?

electric scooters

Our reader currently has a short commute because public transport doesn’t serve his workplace. Rather than drive he would like to ride an electric scooter for the journey, except he’s worried he’ll break the law.

It’s worth clarifying, it is legal to buy and own an electric scooter in the UK. But there are limits over where you can use it.

Why are private electric scooters illegal?

UK law calls electric or e-scooters ‘powered transporters’. This puts them in the same category as powered skateboards and other relatively recent devices such as Segways, hoverboards, go-peds and powered unicycles. There is no special law for these vehicles so the same legislation that covers cars applies.

What law applies to e-scooters?

The Road Traffic Act 1988 covers them. This is for: “Any mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads.” It is the same law that applies to cars.

It states: “It is an offence to use powered transporters on the pavement. By section 72, the Highway Act 1835 it is an offence to ride on, or to lead or draw a carriage on a pavement. This rule applies to almost all vehicles, with special legal exceptions for mobility scooters and wheelchairs.”

Where can’t you drive?

The law also forbids powered or mechanically-propelled vehicles from riding on footpaths, pavements, cycle tracks or cycle lanes. Neither can you ride them in other areas that are accessible to the public, such as car parks, industrial estates or privately-owned roads.

And then there are public roads. The Department for Transport (DfT) says: “For motor vehicles to use public roads lawfully, they must meet a number of different requirements. These include insurance; conformity with technical standards and standards of use; payment of vehicle tax, licensing, and registration; driver testing and licensing; and the use of relevant safety equipment.” E-scooters struggle to comply with the majority of these.

electric scooters
Electric scooters are currently illegal on public roads in the UK

What are the penalties?

It depends on the offence you commit and the seriousness of it. If the police stop you riding an e-scooter and you have a driving licence, you could potentially get points on it. You could even be disqualified from driving, depending on the offence.

The DfT adds: “Those using powered transporters dangerously or under the influence of drink or drugs can also be convicted of offences leading to imprisonment. Offences related to the standard of driving and speeding also apply.”

Where can you ride an e-scooter legally?

Pretty much the only place you can legally ride an electric scooter is on private land. And then you must have the permission of the landowner.

Will they become illegal?

Thankfully the government is accepting that e-scooters aren’t going away. It set up official schemes in 32 locations around the UK to trial them. These ran until November 2022. The DfT will use the findings from these to inform the rules it makes around e-scooters.

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