We’ve got an answer for you, but let us keep you in suspense for just a moment.
First, a bit of context. The question of the legal status of electric scooters in the UK is typical of similar issues surrounding the legal status of scooters in many jurisdictions. This uncertainty arises from the fact that, due to their fairly recent rise in popularity, electric scooters frequently operate in legal grey areas, without a clearly defined regulatory environment.
You can see this same phenomenon at work with other technologically-driven advances for which existing law doesn’t sufficiently address many of the issues raised. Think of ride-sharing services, like Uber and others, which created an entirely new kind of transport option that many local authorities don’t know how to categorise or regulate because those services didn’t exist when the current rules were made.
In the UK, electric scooters are in a similar situation.
Quite simply, the law hasn’t caught up with modern methods of urban transport, resulting in situations where applicable rules are unclear, inconsistent and fragmented when they exist at all.
Can you ride an electric scooter in a bike lane? On a pavement? When on a scooter are you treated like a cyclist or a pedestrian? Can you ride them on public roads? What about neighbourhood streets? How about the safety features, like running lights? Do you have to be licensed to operate an electric scooter? What about the minimum age for riding one? Should a helmet be required when on an electric scooter? And what about maximum allowable speeds?
These are the kinds of questions that are being addressed—slowly and gradually—by local councils and city, regional and even national governments everywhere, often with very different answers.
The result can lead to a degree of confusion when you’re trying to figure out if you can use your electric scooter in the same way that a friend in another location uses theirs. It can also lead to online searches to learn about the legal status of electric scooters where you live. Places in the UK, for example.
Which reminds us…
Are electric scooters legal in the UK?
Ok, let’s finally get around to this. The answer is...um, well, it depends.
Yes, we realise that this is hardly the answer you were looking for but the UK may be the world’s best current example of the rapidly evolving, ever-changing legal landscape around the topic of electric scooters. Here’s the way things stand as of the beginning of 2021:
Reminder—we’re discussing a situation that seems to change by the day so please do your best to get the most up-to-date information about the jurisdiction where you live before making decisions regarding buying or using an electric scooter. We offer this as a guide to illustrate the issues involved, not as definitive legal advice regarding the use of electric scooters.
- Formally, it is illegal to use privately-owned electric scooters on public roads, cycle lanes or pavements. Anyone doing so is committing an offence.
- Current law allows for the use of privately-owned electric scooters on private land only.
- Somewhat confusingly, electric scooters rented through schemes organised by local councils can be used on public roads in defined areas.
- As of now, electric scooters are classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs), meaning they are treated like a motor vehicle and subject to the same rules as one.
- The rapidly growing market for electric scooters (sales more than doubled in the three months before Christmas of 2020) is forcing the issue of official regulation of their use to ensure their safe operation, both for riders and those around them. This focus on new laws includes significant expansions of areas where they can be used.
- In addition to establishing a clearer, more detailed legal context for the use of electric scooters, there is also much discussion of the physical infrastructure involved (like dedicated lanes) and related issues like possible licensing and insurance issues (as required in Germany).
- There are many official initiatives in progress to integrate the use of electric scooters into the transportation ecosystem but there is still no nationwide policy outlining specific rules and regulations.
- Currently, there are about 30 trial schemes in progress throughout the UK. They are expected to run until after the summer of 2021 and serve the purpose of gathering information and feedback to better understand the issues involved in liberalising the use of electric scooters. When completed, the Department for Transport will review the results of these schemes in order to inform decisions about possible changes in legislation.
The bottom line is that right now you can legally buy and sell electric scooters but it is against the law to ride a privately owned electric scooter in any public place in the UK. This means that public roads, pavements, town centres and parks are out and privately owned electric scooters must be confined to private land.
On the other hand, tens of thousands of electric scooters operated by local councils can be used in many of those same places that are off-limits to all those scooters given as gifts for Christmas.
The current situation is complicated and confusing but it’s also very much a transitional phase. The movement to reform the rules around the use of electric scooters is underway and making progress but these things take time. We’re sure that one day we’ll all look back and laugh at these strange times but, until then, always be sure to follow applicable regulations in your jurisdiction.
Thinking about grabbing an electric scooter for yourself to be ready for Scooter Liberation Day in the UK? Ok, we made that up but the day is definitely coming when all the English can go electric, the Scots can scoot, Wales can get on wheels and Northern Ireland can...uh...let us get back to you on that one. Check out the new JIVR | Scooter now and start visualising yourself moving through just about any road or park you please!