That is certainly the superficial conclusion from yesterday’s short debate about e-scooters in the Lords. Wrapping it up, Transport Minister Baroness Vere said in terms that “No decision has been taken about the future legal status of e-scooters”. In earlier parts of her speech, she stressed the need for an evidence-based approach, drawing from experiences and data from the authorised trials to “inform future policy and any legislative basis for e-scooter users in future.” Despite this, reading between the lines of her remarks may offer some clues to the legal options that the government might take forward.
First, a health warning: in closely studying what the Minister said in the speech, there is a risk of seeing only what you want to see in it. But, bearing that in mind, these appear to be the main indications of any future framework.
- Creating a new legal category of vehicles for scooters and other powered transporters
“However, if they are to be legalised, we would consider removing them from the motor vehicle category and instead creating a new bespoke category of vehicles with the appropriate regulatory regime in place.”
2. Putting in place overarching legislation and allowing for flexible regulations
“one could have a system where you would have a framework from which you would then regulate to ensure that things can be adjusted as technology moves on.
3. Grounding the approach in data from the trials
“The final report for the trials is due relatively soon … We hope to publish it in spring.”
The first two aspects above are very similar to the approach taken in Ireland, where legislation along those lines in currently making its way through the Oireachtas, having been introduced in the second half of last year.
The third point is clearly a practical way to proceed, but it may be a rather narrow approach because it doesn’t expressly take account of what one Peer called “the wild west” of the current and widespread illegal use of privately owned e-scooters. The highest estimate of those given in yesterday’s debate was one million, which isn’t implausible. That is over forty times the 23,000 scooters that the Minister said were available via the trial schemes. PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) is currently collecting data on accidents caused by privately owned e-scooters and it will be critical that government also takes that into consideration when formulating any future legal framework.
That framework should build on and complement consistent enforcement of the existing law. The level of enforcement of the current bans on using privately-owned scooters and on pavement riding is an operational matter for individual police forces but there is a real perception that not enough is being done. Baroness Neville-Rolfe noted that “There can be no dispute that the law is being widely flouted – never a good place to start … there seem to be limited attempts to enforce the law.” and Baroness Stowell said later in the debate that “if the Government want to retain and expand a commercial e-scooter rental scheme, they must ensure that the current rules and regulations are enforced and be prepared to regulate yet further.”
Although several Peers called for an outright ban on e-scooters, that seems an unlikely outcome. Experiences from other countries tends to suggest that ‘legalise, subject to flexible and safety-driven regulation’ can be a workable approach to e-scooters. How long a new legal framework reflecting that approach might take to be implemented here is not clear, but I certainly expect we will learn a good deal more following publication of the final report on the trials later in the year.
[The Hansard report of yesterday’s debate may be accessed here.]