What is the current legal position?

It is legal to buy and sell e-scooters, but there are restrictions on where they can be used. Unlike e-bikes, e-scooters are considered a type of ‘powered transporter’ for the purposes of UK law and as such are covered by the same laws that apply to motor vehicles (the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Highway Act 1835.) 

(That isn’t a typo. The government really is banning the use of e-scooters by using a law passed in 1835 when the primary mode of transport was a horse and cart. But somehow e-bikes are okay. Go figure.)

It is lawful to use them on private land with the landowner’s permission, but currently not legal to use privately owned e-scooters on public roads.

So why are there lots of rental e-scooters on the road?

In March 2019 the government announced that as part of its aim to become a “global leader in transport innovation” it would conduct a regulatory review of micromobility in the UK. This would include trials of micromobility vehicles to allow data-gathering on the transport infrastructure, with a view to possibly legalising the use of privately-owned e-scooters in the UK. 

So far, so good.

In July 2020 the Government passed a law to allow e-scooter rental trials to take place across the UK. Trials were intended to run for 12 months from the point they commenced in each area, with the possibility of extension with local or national government agreement.

Over 30 areas across the UK became involved in the trials. In these areas it is legal for rental e-scooters to be used on roads and in cycle lanes, but not on pavements. There are several requirements for riders, including holding a driving licence. Government guidance states that helmets should be worn, but did not make it a legal requirement.
In a September 2020 report, the House of Commons Transport Committee recommended legalising the use of private e-scooters on public roads and cycle lanes, on the basis that it could be a low-cost, accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to private cars.

So where are we heading?

In September 2021 the think tank Centre For London expressed support for legalising private e-scooters alongside rental schemes.

By October 2021 there were 22,644 rental e-scooters being used in the UK. In December 2021 it was announced that where the trials had run for the original 12 months they would be extended by a further 12 months to November 2022. 

In political circles this is known as “kicking the can down the road.” The effect is that a government that aspires to be a global leader in transport innovation is now the only government in the Western world that has not legalised the use of e-scooters.

The Department for Transport said an interim evaluation of the rental trial scheme would be published in autumn 2021. This never came out. On 13th January 2022 it confirmed that it would be published “shortly” with the final report to be published in Spring 2022. 

As at early February there is no sign of either.

Meanwhile according to a 2016 study by the Royal College of Physicians, about 40,000 deaths in Britain each year are linked to air pollution, predominantly in urban areas. Just sayin.