E-scooters – friend or foe? A personal view

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If you live near certain towns and cities in the UK, you probably can’t help but notice the growing numbers of people whizzing by on electric scooters (e-scooters) over the past year.

There are 31 e-scooter trials in cities all over the UK, with riders in these trials permitted on roads, cycle lanes and tracks, but not on pavements or motorways. As of July 2021, the Department for Transport has recorded more than two million trips, covering a distance of more than 31 million miles.

This Brake Road Safety Week 2021, specialist personal injury solicitor Alison Sayers from our Southampton team, asks the vital question ‘are e-scooters friends or our foes?’ and gives her own personal view.

Shortly after the introduction of e-scooters in Southampton, I walked to my nearest e-scooter docking point to rent one from the city’s e-scooter rental operator.

It’s a quick and straightforward process. You take a picture of your driving licence and a ‘selfie’ and submit this to the e-scooter app to prove you are eligible to rent an e-scooter. After a few more clicks on your mobile, you scan a QR code on the e-scooter with your phone camera and away you scoot.

It costs £1 to unlock the e-scooter and then it costs 14p per minute while using it (there are cheaper rates if you rent it for 24 hours or 30 days). Discounts are offered to students and those on low incomes. After your first go, all you need to do is scan the QR code and off you go.

Over the last year, the number of scooter docking stations has increased to the point where I pass four of them on my short, 25-minute walk into work.

Currently, e-scooters are still banned from public parks in the city and Southampton Common. If you try and ride an e-scooter into those areas, the e-scooter’s motor will cut out.

The case for e-scooters

My view is that e-scooters, if they are used responsibly on our roads and cycle lanes, are most definitely our friend. They are environmentally friendly, contribute to reducing traffic levels, take the pressure off public transport and help to reduce noise pollution in our towns and cities.

However, e-scooters can be dangerous, particularly if riders fail to wear a safety helmet.

Sadly, most e-scooter users I see are not wearing helmets. And I frequently see two people dangerously squeezed onto one e-scooter.

E-scooter rental operators are only too aware of the safety risks. One rental operator in the city of York had a brilliant idea which could increase the number of people wearing helmets. Their e-scooters have built-in, foldable helmets attached to the e-scooter, so you don’t have to remember to bring your own helmet with you whenever you leave the house.

Last year, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was impressed to see that many e-scooter rental companies provided free e-scooter rides for our frontline NHS staff and emergency services workers.

E-scooter accidents

Unfortunately, e-scooters get a lot of bad press – mainly due to people using them irresponsibly and causing accidents or using them to commit crimes.

The Times reported in July 2021 that “the number of crimes committed using electric scooters has risen 50-fold this year”.

It is not clear how many of these crimes involved an e-scooter rented lawfully from an e-scooter trial or a privately owned e-scooter being used unlawfully on public roads and cycle lanes.

Privately-owned e-scooters also can travel much faster, with some operating up to 30mph, or if modified, up to 70 mph.

There have been several e-scooter accidents in the news involving pedestrians being struck, or the user being hit by a vehicle on the road. Tragically, a small number of e-scooter accidents have been fatal.

In July 2021, the insurer Admiral recorded 52 e-scooter accidents from January 2021 to July 2021, compared to only 13 during the same period in 2020.

Of course, e-scooter users are not always the one at fault. They can be accident victims in collisions too.

E-scooters rented through government-backed trials are only permitted to ride on the roads and cycle lanes. This means there is a risk of being involved in collisions with vehicles. The e-scooter user is more vulnerable in this situation as they have little or no protection (helmets are only recommended and are not mandatory).

If an e-scooter rented from a trial and a vehicle are involved in an accident on the road, both are covered under the insurance provided by the rental operator and the driver’s motor insurance. If the driver is not insured, the Motor Insurers Bureau can help.

Problems arise when privately owned e-scooters cause accidents with pedestrian or vehicles. Unless the e-scooter user decided to take out insurance (unlikely if they are using it illegally), then there is no insurance to cover the person they hit, and the Motor Insurers Bureau scheme does not apply.

Love them or loathe them, it seems e-scooters are set to be a permanent fixture in society. Countries like France and Spain have already embraced them, so much so that privately owned e-scooters are permitted on the road and cycle lanes.

Perhaps we need to apply the brakes before we get to this stage. I think we need to take a detailed look at how e-scooters (both rental and privately owned) should be used, what rules should apply and what regulations need to be introduced to ensure better safety and compulsory insurance.

If you or a family member has been involved in an accident involving an e-scooter that was not your fault, you may be able to make a personal injury compensation claim. For more information, call us on FREEPHONE 0800 884 0777, email info@novumlaw.com or complete our online enquiry form.

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