17 November 2021

Safety of private e-scooters


Last month, PACTS (Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) produced an interim report entitled “The Safety of Private E-Scooters in the UK.”

It is likely that legislation to permit the use of private e-scooters on public roads in the UK may come forward in 2022. However, understanding their safety is essential before regulations are drawn up. It is clear that evaluation of the government trials of rental e-scooters alone will not provide this information. Therefore, PACTS is gathering evidence on the safety of private e-scooter use and obtaining accounts of casualties.

Female on e-Scooter

Since 2020, large numbers of electric scooters (e-scooters) have appeared in the UK (England and Wales) While some people have hailed them as a solution to low-carbon urban mobility, others have questioned their benefits and safety.

E-scooters have been in widespread use in some cities in North America, Europe and elsewhere for several years. In these locations, e-scooters are predominantly provided through rental schemes. In the UK, uniquely perhaps, the growth has been overwhelmingly in private ownership and use.

Under UK law, e-scooters are illegal to use on roads or in public places without the appropriate registration, insurance, etc. In 2020, at short notice, the Government authorised trial rental schemes of e-scooters in England. Around 50 local authorities have now introduced regulated schemes, with private companies providing around 20,000 e-scooters. These schemes are being monitored by the Department for Transport. Publication of their interim evaluation is due before the end of 2021. There are no equivalent schemes running in Scotland. Transport Scotland is currently undertaking a watching brief on proceedings south of the Border.

Rental e-scooters v Private E-Scooters

Source: PACTS Interim Report

In parallel to these rental schemes, much larger numbers of e-scooters have been bought by the public. The Bicycle Association estimates that in 2020, some 360,000 were purchased and sales have continued in 2021. Safety concerns, notably for the riders, pedestrians and visually impaired people have arisen. The police are taking enforcement action where resources allow.

The Transport Select Committee recommended legalising private use of e-scooters and the Department for Transport seems inclined to do so, possibly in 2022. In that event, detailed regulations will be required. PACTS believes that these should be based on good evidence regarding safety, which is currently lacking. While the trials should produce information on safety of rental schemes, much of this will not be applicable to private use. In addition, e-scooter casualties are under-recorded in official statistics which are published 9-21 months in arrears.

With the support of the Road Safety Trust, PACTS has established a project to gather qualitative and quantitative information on the safety of private e-scooter use. Project partners include the police, NHS trauma specialists, insurance companies, solicitors, the bicycle industry and others.

Throughout 2021, PACTS has independently obtained accounts of casualties from the internet and social media. These are updated and published monthly on the PACTS website. This data is incomplete but, in the absence of anything else, it is probably the best available.

In the first ten months of 2021, there have been nine deaths and other casualties involving both riders and other road users (pedestrians and cyclists). Head injuries and rider falls, as well as collisions with motor vehicles, are a concern. As the project progresses and more data sources are established, PACTS anticipates that the recording of non-fatal casualties in its 2021 database will increase considerably.

This interim report highlights the information and issues revealed to date. It does not include conclusions or recommendations. They will follow in the final report in early 2022, when more information has been obtained. It will be for the government to decide if the benefits of e-scooters outweigh the disadvantages. PACTS’ contribution is in relation to safety.

e-Scooter rider profileLimited evidence gathered from hospital records suggests that e-scooter riders can suffer more significant head injuries than other vulnerable road users if they are involved in accidents. Head injury charities such as Headway are wanting the government to require users of e-scooters to wear a helmet and ensure helmet usage is recorded for e-scooter riders in accident statistics.

E-Scooters are a new means of Transport

They are evidently popular – selling in large numbers despite being illegal to use. As concerns over climate change and air quality increase, some advocate them as a useful alternative to the private car. However, riders of both private and rental e-scooters are vulnerable road users. There are also concerns over the risks to pedestrians from irresponsible use.

PACTS is clear that rental scooters and their use are different in a number of significant respects from private scooters and private use. This will remain so. It will not be feasible to impose the sophisticated safety devices and management systems, employed in the better rental schemes, on private e-scooters and users.

Despite limited means for recording casualties, the evidence from collision reports that PACTS has collated shows that casualty numbers are growing and that the severity of some casualties is high. In the first ten months of 2021 there have been nine deaths involving an e-scooter and over 300 casualties identified. Hospital emergency departments and major trauma centres are treating seriously injured patients, many with head injuries. Other injuries include knee injuries, leg injuries, broken collar bones and facial injuries.

With the assistance from project partners, PACTS will continue to collect information, attempting to put it into context, in order to increase the body of evidence available regarding the safety of private e-scooters in relation to the following:

  • vehicle design
  • speed
  • e-scooter user behaviour, including training
  • roads and infrastructure

From this research, PACTS aims to compile recommendations for the safe use and construction of private e-scooters to inform any future regulations.

It is not for PACTS to decide whether private e-scooters should be legalised. That decision is for the government and will take into account a wide range of factors. PACTS is seeking to ensure that safety matters are adequately understood and considered as part of
that process.

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