E-scooters: risks and key considerations for local authorities

Save for the various local authority trial zones where e-scooters are rented, insured and legal, their use beyond private properties is still illegal and uninsured. Riders can be subject to both fines and points on their driving licence if they are found to be using an e-scooter illegally. They are nonetheless an enormously popular mode of transport, and that popularity appears to be growing.

Here we consider the current status of the trials, possible future regulation, and the potential risks for local authorities, offering our thoughts on how to mitigate against those risks.

E-scooter trials and potential future regulation: current status

E-scooter trials

Recognising the potential role for micromobility vehicles (including e-scooters) – both in respect of environmental benefits and as a means of helping to alleviate pressure on public transport capacity, the UK Government is currently undertaking rental e-scooter trials in 30 regions across England in towns, cities, and more suburban settings.

On 6 July 2022, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Transport (now Minister of State at the Department for Transport) confirmed that “[t]he existing trials will continue to run until 30 November [2022] and participating local authorities will then have the option to end their local trial or extend it to 31 May 2024”. Restricted to existing trial areas, the Minister added that the extension is to enable the gathering of “further evidence where gaps are identified, building on the findings of the current evaluation”.

Transport Bill

In the House of Lords on 11 May 2022, Baroness Vere of Norbiton explained the intention is that the Transport Bill (announced in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May 2022) “will create a low-speed, zero emission vehicle category that is independent from the cycle and motor categories”. Adding that the hope is “that e-scooters will be the first of these vehicles”.

On 20 July 2022, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport - in response to a written question - repeated the intention to create a new vehicle category (as referred to above), but added that “[n]o decisions have been made on the details of the regulations for e-scooters” and that the government “will consult before any new arrangements come into force, and all interested parties will have a chance to shape the regime”.

Publication of the Transport Bill is awaited.

Initial data on collisions and casualties – concerns

Whilst subject to certain caveats, the government’s provisional factsheet –‘Reported road casualties Great Britain: e-Scooter factsheet 2021 (provisional)’ on e-scooter collisions, published on 25 May 2022, provides some insight into e-scooter collision and casualty trends. Based on data provided from police forces to May 2022 and outlining reported collisions involving e-scooters in 2021 compared with 2020, the number (and in particular, the increase) of collisions, casualties and fatalities, make for concerning reading.

By way of example (and summarised from the factsheet), in 2021 there were 1,280 collisions involving e-scooters (309 just involving the e-scooter) causing 1,359 casualties (1,034 being the e-scooter rider) and nine fatalities (all of which were the e-scooter rider).

Given these concerns, how urban centres now accommodate and manage the influx of e-scooters - lane segregation on roads, appropriate maintenance of the highway, signage and warnings - become all the more critical.

Guidance for local authorities

Some indication of how e-scooters may be regulated was provided in a Department for Transport document for those involved in the trials - E-scooter trials: guidance for local authorities and rental operators – which was published on 1 September 2021 and subsequently updated in February 2022. Local authorities and operators were advised to review current safety measures and consider whether any improvements could be made.  The current guidance is helpful, but it is focussed on the current rental trials only (and therefore not on wider use of e-scooters).

Risks and key considerations for local authorities 

Whilst it remains to be seen what the future regulation of e-scooters will be, we have identified the following areas of consideration for local authorities.

Areas of use

When implementing the trials, local authorities have worked with e-scooter providers to decide where e-scooters are permitted, and designated slow zones have been established in busier areas. Rental e-scooters are limited in respect of speed using geofencing technology and it is envisaged that the government would seek to regulate the maximum speed of private e-scooters. The specific areas where e-scooters can be used will need to be considered more widely should e-scooters be permitted in further local authority areas.

Signage, road markings or segregated areas for e-scooters?

Consideration will need to be given to whether it is necessary to provide further signage/road markings and segregated areas for e-scooters or whether the current infrastructure is sufficient.

Segregating e-scooters, reducing risk, keeping them off pavements

It is hoped that as geofencing technology develops, it will assist in disabling e-scooters that are used on the pavement. E-scooter users will be responsible if they collide with other users when riding inappropriately or illegally, i.e., on the pavement. Local authorities may, however, consider working with the police if any areas/routes are found to be particularly troublesome. In some trial areas Civil Enforcement Officers have worked with the police to help educate the public about the rules (including that riding on the pavement is not permitted), with fines issued when required.

Interaction with other road users: cyclists

Consideration will need to be given as to how e-scooters will interact with other road users such as cyclists in cycle lanes. If relevant the capacity of cycle lanes will need to be assessed as well as the adequacy of signage and road markings.

Abandoned and stolen e-scooters

Issues may arise from e-scooters being abandoned and/or parked incorrectly, perhaps causing pedestrians to move from the normal walking route. This should be considered during highway inspections when risk assessing defects (which may not be in the ordinary walking line).

Parking stands and charging locations

Placement of charging locations and parking stands will need to be carefully considered, with reference to likely usage levels to ensure that sufficient space and charging ports are available. Local authorities will need to be mindful that additional risks are not posed by trailing cables across the highway.

Public education on the use of e-scooters

E-scooter providers require members of the public to partake in a short training exercise via an app prior to the rental of an e-scooter. Other proposals have included lower speed limits for new riders. It has been suggested that a similar scheme to Bikeability (cycling) could be used to educate the public regarding the use of e-scooters.

Currently all e-scooters users are required to have a full or provisional car, motorcycle, or moped licence in order to ensure that they are aware of the road layouts, the Highway Code, etc.

Local authorities can assist in the education piece by clear signage, designated routes (as required) and educating their own highway inspectors.

Highways

The well-managed Highway Infrastructure places a duty on highway authorities to consider different types of user accessing the highway when managing the network. E-scooter users would fall into the category of vulnerable road users. Consideration must be given to the way in which the highway is managed when completing inspections, with these road users in mind.

Highway inspectors will need to take account of the possibility of e-scooters using the carriageway, cycle lanes and other routes where rental e-scooters are currently permitted. Further, they will need to consider the specific characteristics of e-scooters (i.e., tyre sizes, vulnerable road users) when risk assessing defects to ensure that the assessment is robust and fit for purpose.

Local authorities need to be alive to potential claims as a result of issues which may otherwise not have caused an accident, for example some surface debris, standing water, some defects.

Collisions with street furniture and those outlined above in relation to cycle lanes raise additional issues.

Any changes to the network will need to be thoroughly considered and documented to ensure that all road users are not exposed to additional risks because of the changes. Any changes should be informed by the outcomes of the trials, but other specific local factors will also need to be considered.

Local authorities will need to perform a thorough risk assessment to assess where designated slow zones are required considering road usage levels and other factors such as the nature of specific routes, for example, the gradient and bends.   

Comment

There will be a wide range of emerging risks that will become more prevalent in the months and years ahead, as we see the inevitable increase of e-scooters and other new forms of transport on our roads and public places.

The application by rental operators of measures such as speed inhibitors, go-slow, and no-go areas help to mitigate the risks for local authorities. The absence of such controls in the use of privately-owned e-scooters (and the reportedly significantly higher volume of those that are privately-owned compared with those used within rental schemes), may mean the use outside of rental schemes present the greater challenge for local authorities.

Based on feedback from a number of our local authority clients they have reviewed and maintained their current highways intervention levels but will keep this under review as the e- scooter market grows. They see the main challenge arising from private e-scooter use. Fortunately, there have been few claims presented to date but it is anticipated they will see an increase in this area as the e-scooter usage continues to grow.  

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