Transport innovation – today’s Queen’s Speech heralds the regulation of e-scooters and more activity on automated driving

The Prince of Wales delivered the Queen’s Speech this morning. The Speech itself sets out, fairly briefly, the main themes of the government’s legislative programme for the new parliamentary session (the government’s accompanying background material is more comprehensive and runs to 140 pages).

In relation to a new Transport Bill, he said that the government “will improve transport across the United Kingdom, delivering safer, cleaner services and enabling more innovations.” This high-level summary is sufficiently broad to encompass introducing new regulations for e-scooters and further refinements of the law governing automated driving.

On the former, the Sectary of State told parliament late last month that he would legislate for e-scooters, saying that “What I want to do, and will do, is crack down on all the e-scooters that are being sold privately that are substandard, that can be tampered with without necessarily breaking the law, that do not have the required lighting and that are sometimes built to the wrong power, wattage and the like. We will crack down on the private market and make it illegal to sell e-scooters that do not meet the regulatory standards we will bring in … I shall announce it on 10 May.”

Turning to automated driving, the prospect of further legislation is very clearly stated in the background material to the Transport Bill, which refers to “introducing new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles”. Considering the extensive and important work carried out on the topic by the Law Commission over the last three years, it seems highly likely that a good deal of those “new laws” would draw heavily from the Commission’s detailed recommendations that were published back in January.

Given that the new Transport Bill will also establish a new rail body, Great British Railways, and set out its role, remit and functions, it is going to be an extensive Bill and as such may not be published in full for several months.

Back in October, the Prince told the BBC that his 1970 Aston Martin had been converted to run on bioethanol that was produced from “surplus English white wine, and whey from the cheese process.”  That is a rather different style of transport innovation to those he announced earlier today, and which should, over the next two years or so, culminate in comprehensive new legal codes governing e-scooter use and automated driving.

Written by Alistair Kinley, Director of Policy & Government Affairs at BLM

Government yet to decide on insurance rules, if any, for e-scooters

Roads Minister Trudy Harrison MP recently this week replied to several parliamentary questions on future government policy on e-scooters and what any new legal regime might look like. Although her replies give little away, they at least show the issue is being actively considered within government. For example, on 23 February she explained that “We are considering further options for how best to regulate e-scooters and crack down on their illegal use. New measures being considered will be designed to create a ​much clearer, fit for purpose and fully enforceable regime for e-scooters and other micromobility vehicles.” Yesterday she added that “The Department is now considering options for a new regulatory framework for e-scooters. This includes working with industry to consider whether to require insurance and, if so, what kind.”

The Minister also reminded MPs that late last year the e-scooter rental trial schemes “were further extended to 30 November 2022 [to] allow us to continue to fill data gaps and allow us to collect more evidence.” This would appear to suggest that the timing of the outputs of DfT’s policy development on e-scooters is not entirely clear. We expect the department will publish further analysis of data and insights from the trials in the next few months, with Ms Harrison noting that “A full set of findings on rental e-scooters from our national evaluation, will be included in our final report due later in 2022.” But at this stage we simply don’t know if that final report will set out the detail of, in her words, a “fit for purpose and fully enforceable regime for e-scooters” or whether that will have to wait until the extended trials come to an end in November.

Alistair Kinley, Director of Policy & Government Affairs

Does the way forward for e-scooter regulation remain unclear?

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.

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