E-scooter trial concerns as London gets green light

As London announced plans for a 12-month pilot scheme for the use of e-scooters, a leading legal expert has warned the trial may lead to trials of a different kind.

Under the scheme London will become the host for the UK’s largest ever trial of e-scooters.

Transport for London (TfL) said the scheme aims to promote safety standards and develop a better understanding of the impact of “this emerging mode of transport on London’s roads”.

The plan is to start the trial in the Spring of next year and a competition has been launched in which e-scooter operators can compete for the opportunity to take part, with up to three to be selected.

The total number of e-scooters involved in the trial has not yet been determined, but TfL expects to start cautiously with between 60 to 150 e-scooters per participating borough, with e-scooters able to move freely across the trial area.

“Operators who demonstrate strong performance and compliance will be able to increase the number of e-scooters in their fleet over the course of the trial, whilst those who do not may have to reduce their fleet size,” said TfL.

The trials are part of a wider approach across TfL, London boroughs and national government to enable people to use greener forms of transport and help avoid a damaging, car-led recovery from coronavirus, which would make air quality worse and increase congestion.

The scheme will involve a rental scooters as the use of privately owned e-scooters on public roads remains illegal in the UK. The Metropolitan Police have said they will continue their work engaging with e-scooter riders, and where necessary, will enforce the legislation regarding the use of privately owned e-scooters.

Individual London boroughs will control parking locations for e-scooters to protect against street clutter and will be able to designate certain areas as ‘no-go areas’ – where e-scooters cannot be ridden and will automatically come to a safe stop – or as ‘go-slow areas’, where the speed of the e-scooter will be automatically limited to 8mph.

Michael Hurwitz, TfL’s Director of Transport Innovation, said: ”We’re determined to make sure that London recovers from coronavirus as safely and sustainably as possible and are supportive of innovative solutions that could help.

“Safety will be our number one priority during this e-scooter rental trial, which will be critical to providing us the data and insights we need to determine whether e-scooters are a viable part of a greener and healthier future for London. We’ll continue to take the interests of all Londoners into account as we work towards starting the trial next year.”

However, Glyn Thompson, Member of the Motor Sector Focus Team at FOIL (Forum of Insurance Lawyers) and Associate at Weightmans warned the scheme has the potential to create a new liability crisis.

“Classed as a “motor vehicle”, as part of the trials e-scooter use will be limited to roads, cycle lanes and cycle tracks but not pavements,” he explained.   “Insurance will be supplied by the e-scooter provider as part of the rental fee. The new e-scooter adventurers will have little or no experience of using such a vehicle and so collisions scenarios could be novel; think over-accelerating from dead starts or stepping off before stopping.  With few riders likely to wear helmets accidents involving this new vulnerable road user group means potentially significant injuries and complex claims.”

Mr Thompson added: “Private e-scooters remain illegal to use on public highways so cannot be insured. However, as the trials ramp up, without knowledge of the legislation private e-scooters owners are likely to see the trials as legitimising use of their own scooters leading to congested highways of insured and uninsured e-scooters presenting new risks to existing highway users!

“Both established motor insurers and the MIB can expect to see an acceleration in these new types of liability dispute, such as they may. Caution ahead – proceed with care.”