Already popular in other parts of the world, the need to transport commuters to work as safely as possible has led the British authorities to fast-track e-scooter trials on the public highway, according to Vikki Melville, partner at law firm Clyde & Co’s Edinburgh office.
E-scooter operators in a range of regions of the country including Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Cambridge have already been authorised to rent the vehicles to the public, while a year-long study in London is due to commence in spring 2021.
However, in Scotland, a lengthier approvals process has delayed the start of trials.
During the trial, e-scooters will continue to be classed as motor vehicles and therefore insurance and a driving licence are required. In the US, where app-enabled e-scooter sharing services are already popular, some cities and local regulators restrict when and where e-scooters can be operated, and recommend users wear helmets and follow traffic safety laws.
According to Melville, legalising e-scooters in the UK will create more transport options for commuters, particularly for ‘last mile’ journeys.
However, she added, it is important that public safety remains at the forefront, especially given some users have little experience of using e-scooters. In the US, she suggested, many crashes have been caused by users’ lack of skill or co-ordination, or because of unfamiliarity with controls.
“The Department of Transport’s view is that micro-mobility vehicles ‘could offer benefits for individuals and society’,” she said. “However, in allowing micro-mobility vehicles on the road, the correct balance ‘between maximising the benefits they offer and keeping road users safe’ must be found.”
Melville added that not all of the current trials have gone well: a pilot in Hartlepool had to be postponed due to misuse of the vehicles, including reports of the scooters being used in shopping centres.
Despite these uncertainties, however, a wide range of e-scooter operators have expressed interest in entering the UK market.
“For e-scooters to be a success, user and public safety needs to be of paramount importance,” Melville commented.
“If e-scooters are to be encouraged as an alternative mode of transport, either as greener travel or to reduce the numbers using public transport in response to the Covid-19, then regulation needs to be balanced carefully. It seems likely that 2021 will be the year in which they can prove their worth. As long as the necessary regulation and insurance are in place, they seem set to become a fixture of Britain’s streets.”