Electric scooters have become a common sight on the streets of the UK in recent years – despite plenty of confusion over their legality.
The growing popularity of e-scooters is down to them offering a greener alternative to using a car or motorbike, while being less physical than cycling or walking. They are also relatively cheap, making them appeal to younger users.
But while you are increasingly likely to see them on roads, cycles lanes and pavements, should they even be there?
We've put together all the key information you need to know about e-scooter use in the UK – including what is likely to change following the government's announcement it plans to legalise them in a new Transport Bill.
This guide will explain how and where you can legally enjoy this relatively new and increasingly popular mode of transport, and what the risks are if you choose to use one outside of the provisions made by the law.
The government has legalised e-scooters now, right?
Don't buy that e-scooter just yet. The government has announced plans to legalise the use of private e-scooters and other 'low-speed zero-emission vehicles' on public roads – but that requires Parliament to pass the legislation in a new Transport Bill.
That is likely to take at least a year, and until then the rules will not change.
Eleanor Chappell, the head of micromobility for the Department for Transport, said: "For private machines, unless they meet the requirements for motor vehicles – so you've got an motorcycle helmet on, you've got insurance which is hard to get and they meet the motor vehicle requirements – it is still illegal to use an e-scooter on public roads, and the police will continue to enforce it that way."
Okay... so at present are e-scooters legal to buy and use?
Major high street and online retailers are actively promoting the sale of e-scooters owing to their growing popularity – and yes, it is completely legal to purchase one.
However, crucially, privately owned scooters are restricted for use solely on private land with the permission of the land owner. It is illegal to use a privately owned e-scooter on pavements, cycle paths or roads at present.
Under current UK law, e-scooters are classed as ‘powered transporters’, which means they treated in the same way as motor vehicles, so pavements and cycle paths are strictly off limits. But to be used on a public road they would have to meet the same requirements as cars and motorbikes and have the correct MOT, tax, insurance, licence and construction techniques, which currently is virtually impossible technically and financially.
If I buy an e-scooter now, will I be able to use it when they are legalised?
Not necessarily. The government has yet to outline specific regulations for the e-scooter class of the 'low-speed zero-emission vehicle' category – but it has said that "safety will be at the heart" of the new regulations.
Even after the government publishes a proposed set of rules they will go out for consultation and must then be approved by parliament. It is only when they are signed into law that it will be absolutely clear what the rules are.
The government has said that they are likely to be based on the rules for e-scooters in rental trial schemes (see below), and include a strict speed limit (around 15.5mph), a minimum wheel size to help with pot holes and rules requiring e-scooters to be fitted with brakes, daytime running lights, indicators and possibly acoustic warning systems.
While many private e-scooters currently on sale have some of those features, not all do – which means they wouldn't be road-legal even when the new laws come into force.
It's also possible the government could also introduce some form of e-scooter registration or licence scheme, and it's not yet known if existing private e-scooters would be able to qualify for that.
But I see lots of brightly colours e-scooters everywhere. Are any e-scooters legal to use on public roads?
Yes – you can use machines that are part of government-approved and council-sanctioned rental trials.
Those schemes began in July 2020 and were originally due to run for a limited period to help the government gather data on e-scooter usage, but have not been extended until at lead the end of November 2022. With the government planning to legalise e-scooter usage, expect those schemes to continue beyond then – and possibly more to be introduced.
There are currently rental trials in 31 regions across England, and there are also schemes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. They are run by companies such as Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Tier, Voi and Neuron.
Those trials are the only way you can ride an e-scooter on public land legally, and there are a number of restrictions and rules in place.
Firstly, you must be over the age of 18 to hire one. You also need a valid driving licence with a category Q entitlement. If you're unsure whether you have this, remember that a full or provisional UK licence for categories AM, A or B includes entitlement for category Q.
If you then rent an e-scooter, it can only be used within the boundaries of that trial. It’s also worth reading the small print, because further restrictions may apply depending on the area you are in.
There is also a maximum speed limit of 15.5mph, but it is lower in some areas: scooters in London are limited to 12.5mph, and they can be reduced to as low as 8mph in certain areas. Since 1 April 2022, the government requires lower speed limits for new riders.
Often e-scooter speed limits are enforced via tracking, so the machine will automatically restrict its top speed, but it is good to be aware of the rules yourself.
You must also have insurance. At present, e-scooter rental operators currently supply this as standard. Operators are now also required to display a label with a unique identification number akin to a licence plate.
You may use a trial e-scooter on the road - although use on faster roads, dual carriageways and motorways is banned - and in some cycle lanes. You must not use an e-scooter on the pavement.
You must ride an e-scooter solo, and you are not allowed to carry a passenger.
Wearing a helmet is not compulsory but is strongly recommended, and operated are required to offer incentives to do so.
Most rental schemes also have rules requiring you to park machines in designated areas, and operating hours for such schemes. Since April 1 2022, rental scheme operated are required to offer parking incentives and penalties.
What are the technical rules for rental trial e-scooters?
The motor has a maximum power output of 500W, a top speed of 15.5mph, two independent braking systems and cannot weight more than 55kg. The machine must have front and rear lights (direction indicators are optional) and reflectors and a stand.
Rental e-scooters must also be steered by handlebars that are mechanically connected to the front wheels, and there must be a way of controlling the machine's speed via hand controls.
Expect those regulations to be very similar to the rules applied to private e-scooters when they are eventually legalised for road use.
Are the rules of the road different on a rental e-scooter?
No: rental e-scooter users are subject to the same rules as any other road user.
That means mobile phone use is banned and riding under the influence of drink or drugs will lead to prosecution.
You aren’t allowed to carry a passenger on an e-scooter and there are some weight restrictions that must be adhered to. The operator of the rental scheme can provide more details of these, usually through their smartphone app.
How and where do I ride an e-scooter legally?
There are currently more than 50 towns and cities across England taking part in e-scooter trials.
The trials are mainly in urban areas, where there is a focus on trying to reduce congestion and air pollution caused by the number of vehicles and to replace short journeys with greener transport solutions.
If a rental trial is operating in your area, you need to download an app and register with the operator. That will involve giving details of your driving licence to ensure you meet all the requirements.
Then, once you’ve located a vacant e-scooter (which the app will help guide you to), just follow the instructions on the screen.
So long as you meet the requirements to ride, the e-scooter will be released and you can get on your way.
Hire prices vary, but typically start at £1 to unlock the e-scooter and 15p a minute thereafter. Some operators offer daily, weekly and monthly passes for a set fee, albeit often with daily ride time limits.
Can I use my own e-scooter in a trial area?
No. The purpose of the trials is to establish how safe e-scooters are, how they can integrate within the current transport system and ultimately decide if they have a viable role to play in a future transport landscape that includes micro-mobility.
As such, the official trial e-scooters are monitored and geofenced to stop them leaving certain areas and they have restrictions in place to avoid things like speeding.
The trials have been set up to allow the companies running them and authorities to monitor who is using them, how long they are used for, distances travelled and rider behaviours, with the end goal of having enough data to decide whether or not they should be legalised.
This can’t be done with privately owned e-scooters.
There are a limited number of 'long-term' trials, where users effectively rent their own machine they can keep at home. But they still need to meet all the other trial rules.
What are the risks if I use my own e-scooter on public land at the moment?
Until the new Transport Bill legislation is passed, riding your own e-scooter in public will put you on the wrong side of the law.
Government legislation is clear on the risks, stating: “The potential penalties depend on the nature and gravity of the offence, and sentences range from fines and penalty points to disqualification from driving.
“Those who use powered transporters dangerously or under the influence of drink or drugs can also be convicted of offences leading to imprisonment. Offences related to the standard of driving and speeding also apply.”
You could be fined, giving penalty points or even banned from driving. And your e-scooter could be seized permanently – a sizeable punishment in itself, given that prices typically start at £300 and rise to £1000s.
Following the launch of trials in London, chief superintendent Simon Ovens of the Metropolitan Police Service stressed that the trials would not lead to any more leniency towards private owners e-scooting on public land: “The Metropolitan police are pleased to support this trial to enable the government to be informed of how these e-scooters may form part of our transport infrastructure in the future.
“However, we'd like to remind everybody that private e-scooters used outside this trial remain illegal and will be dealt with by way of seizure.”
Should I wear a helmet and other safety equipment while riding an e-scooter?
As with cycling, it isn't compulsory to wear a helmet while riding an e-scooter – although it is strongly recommended, and many trial schemes offer incentives to do so.
There have been limited studies into head injuries in e-scooter accidents, and there are suggestions current bike helmets do not offer optimal protection for e-scooter riders due to the difference in machine design. It is possible that bespoke e-scooter helmets could be developed in future.
That said, we'd recommend any step you can take to keep your head safe, and wearing a helmet seems an easy way to do that.
Are e-scooters safe?
The number of accidents involving e-scooters are increasing: in the year from July 2020 until June 2021 there were 882 accidents involving e-scooters, resulting in 931 casualties and, sadly, three fatalities. The bulk of injuries were to e-scooter riders.
But to put that in context: there were a total of 119,850 people were injured in road accidents during that period, with the vast bulk of incidents involving cars.
The data also shows that the bulk of injuries involved riders using private e-scooters, with the machines in the government-approved rental schemes significantly safer. And one study – albeit funded by an e-scooter operator – suggested e-scooters could be safer than bikes.
Rental e-scooters operators are also working to address concerns from vulnerable pedestrian and road users, such as those with impaired visibility. For starters, e-scooters are not allowed to be used on pavements, so should largely be separated from pedestrians.
Some rental trial schemes are also working with experts to develop a universal warning noise – similar to the noise electric cars are required to make – to help alert other road users to their presence.
Ultimately, the government's wish to legalise and regulate e-scooters is, in part, because it will allow them to introduce rules that will improve the safety of the machines – both for riders and other road users.
What about the fire risk?
There are concerns about fire safety, following a number of incidents in which e-scooter batteries have caught fire. That has prompted Transport for London and other transport operators to ban e-scooters from being carried on their services.
The recommendation is that you don't leave an e-scooter battery plugged into charge unsupervised, and always make sure there is adequate space around it due to how hot batteries can get when charging.
It is likely this issue will be addressed in the new regulations for e-scooters, with standards potentially placed on battery size, design and construction.
What does the future hold for e-scooters?
The government is planning to create a new category of low-speed zero-emission vehicles, which will include a class for e-scooters. That will be part of a new Transport Bill, which must pass through parliament. That is unlikely to happen until sometime in 2023.
The current trials are due to end in November 2022, although this will almost certainly be extended. Those schemes are likely to be made permanent once e-scooters are fully legalised and regulated, and we don't yet know what limits will be in place.
At present, the number of trial operators and individual e-scooters in specific areas is limited. Even once e-scooters are legalised, expect similar limits to remain in place.
A view from a leading e-scooter manufacturer
One of the largest rental providers currently operating in the e-scooter trials is Voi.
Voi operates in over 70 cities across 11 countries. To date, it reports having had more than six million users and serving more than 70 million rides. In the UK, it has 17 locations.
We spoke to Jack Samler, general manager at Voi UK and Ireland, for his take on the current trials and what the future holds for e-scooters.
“Thirty-nine percent of our users are telling us they are replacing short car journeys with e-scooters or e-bikes,” said Samler. “So far, we estimate our riders have replaced 2.4 million short car trips and reduced over 1300 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
“Currently, Bristol is among the top most popular cities in Europe for e-scooter rides, with over two million rides taken and over 3.7 million miles travelled on Voi e-scooters since the launch of the trial back in October 2020, replacing an estimated 790,000 short car journeys.”
Asked what he wanted to see in the future legalisation of e-scooters, Samler added: “Our recommendation would be for the Department for Transport to ensure a level playing field between shared and private e-scooters in any future legislation.
“Legislation permitting the use of private e-scooters should include strict provisions around insurance and vehicle specifications such as maximum weight and speed.”
In regards to the classification for e-scooters on roads, he said: “The new classification should remove current regulations which have no impact on safety or sustainability, such as the requirement for provisional or full driving licences.”
Additional reporting: James Attwood