Sophie Hamilton Senior Associate
E-scooters and me: thoughts on the increase in electric scooter use in Bristol
I live and work in central Bristol, so I can’t help but notice the increased appearance of electric scooters (or 'e-scooters') on our roads (and pavements!). However, the impact of more vehicles on our already crowded roads cannot be ignored. The use of e-scooters has certainly aroused significant interest and debate, with much discussion over their safety for the scooter users themselves, as well as the other road users they come into contact with.
As a pedestrian, I can see how they could be a great, cheap and environmentally friendly substitute for cars for short journeys around the city, although I have yet to try using one myself. As a solicitor specialising in injury claims, I cannot help but think about the consequences if something should, unfortunately, go wrong.
Bristol and our surrounding region is currently part of a number of nationwide government introduced trials of the Voi e-scooter, for both ‘hop-on, hop-off’ journeys and for longer-term rental options. The trial started in the autumn of 2020, and since then Voi have steadily been increasing the number of available scooters. Voi themselves say “Riding a Voi scooter is the perfect way to get around the city, while sparing it from both noise and pollution.”
However, it is also possible to buy electric scooters privately, and there are some significant legal differences covering the official rental e-scooters and private scooters.
This is where it gets complicated. At the moment, e-scooters are classified as motorised vehicles and are therefore subject to the same legal requirements as any motor vehicle.
However, it is very important to understand that privately-owned electric scooters are illegal for use on pavements and footpaths and can only be used on private land with the owner’s consent. Only official Voi rented scooters can be ridden on the public highway, and anyone riding their own private electric scooter will be committing a criminal offence by using it on the road.
To use the Voi rental e-scooters, you must have a full or provisional driving licence and be at least 18 years of age. As with driving any other motor vehicle you must, for example, drive in a safe manner, you must not drive on pavements and you must not ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
My concern, particularly as a pedestrian road user, and as an injury claims lawyer, is that the law surrounding the use of electric scooters is confusing for many and untested. E-scooters are small and fun to use, so inevitably attract younger riders, who in particular may simply not appreciate that they are subject to the same laws as motor vehicles. E-scooter riders riding on pavements and not obeying traffic signals are not only a source of frustration, but could potentially be very dangerous, both for the riders and other road users, particularly pedestrians.
Unfortunately, as is the case with all motor vehicles used on the road, the potential for injury, possibly serious, is always there. If you are injured by or using a Voi e-scooter you may have the reassurance that there is insurance in place if you need compensation, but it is likely that a private e-scooter rider won’t have insurance, or the financial means to meet a claim, so you will be left out of pocket.
Of course, the purpose of having the e-scooter trials like the one currently running in Bristol, is to try and identify and address the issues caused by the use of this ‘new’ mode of transport. Already, the Voi scooters’ speed can be limited according to the area they are in, and Voi are considering adapting their scooters to make an artificial ‘noise’ so that sight impaired road users in particular, can hear them coming.
No doubt the debate will continue, as the trials of e-scooters expand around the country, as to the risks and benefits of this new form of transport. I have only been able to scratch the surface of the issues in this article. I would hope we are able to integrate e-scooters into our lives in as safe and managed way as possible, but sadly it is inevitable that there will be injuries and this will be a fast-developing area of law.
For more information and advice, get in touch with a member of our Personal Injury team.