In our recent article Scoot Over – The Law and Electric Scooters, we looked at the legal position in relation to the use of electric scooters (e-scooters) in Ireland. However, more recent clarifications from the Minister for Transport (the Minister) confirm that this position has changed.
It now seems clear that all e-scooters are considered to be “mechanically propelled vehicles”, or MPVs, under road traffic legislation. This means that all of the usual legal requirements apply, including, for example, the need to have a licence, tax and insurance if used in a public place. However, as it is not currently possible to tax or insure e-scooters, this amounts to an effective ban on their use.
A changed approach?
Our last article referred to clarifications from An Garda Síochána (Irish police force) and the Road Safety Authority. These provided that, if an e-scooter could be powered by mechanical or electrical power alone, and did not require pedalling or scooting for propulsion, then it was considered an MPV. This was generally understood to mean that, if an e-scooter could be propelled from a stationary position by a motor alone, it was considered an MPV. However, if an e-scooter required some manual propulsion to take off, before the motor kicked in, it was not considered an MPV.
More recent statements from the Minister for Transport clarify that all e-scooters are now considered to be MPVs. According to the Department of Transport, this is because e-scooters do not require “continuous effort” on the part of the user for propulsion, regardless of the method of initial take off. E-scooters can, therefore, be distinguished under road traffic legislation from, for example, pedal bikes, which are propelled solely by the physical exertions of the rider.
As noted above, if all e-scooters are MPVs, this means that the usual legal requirements will apply, including the need to have a licence, tax and insurance if used in a public place.
Anecdotally, we understand that e-scooters users are willing to comply with these requirements, and have endeavoured to do so. However, as acknowledged by the Minister in Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament), it is not currently possible to tax or insure electric scooters, because they are not considered suitable for use on public roads. Therefore, the use of e-scooters is currently illegal on Irish roads. The penalties for doing so can include fines and seizure of the vehicle.
Is legislation required?
There is mounting pressure on the Minister to introduce specific and clear regulation for e-scooters as a matter of priority. Opposition party, Fianna Fáil, says that it has drafted legislation to regulate the use of e-scooters, which it intends to bring before the Dáil shortly.
In the meantime, the Minister has repeatedly stated that that he will not make any decision until the Road Safety Authority has completed its research to see how other EU Member States have regulated for e-scooters. The Minister has not indicated when this would be, emphasising the need to get this right as a matter of road safety. Encouragingly, however, he has told the Dáil that a decision would be made “very quickly”, acknowledging the importance of the issue, given the “extraordinary surge” in the number of these vehicles.
The relevant authorities in Ireland appear to have been caught off-guard by the speed at which e-scooters have increased in use and popularity. Indeed, the Minister has acknowledged in the Dáil the “pretty sudden explosion” in this regard.
This has led to confusion regarding their legality, and, for now, their effective ban because of the lack of specific regulation.
It is hoped that such regulation is forthcoming as soon as possible. This should include what models, if any, are permitted, and where they can be used. For safety reasons, speed restrictions could also be considered, as is the case in other EU countries.
Given the current focus on climate action, it remains to be seen whether the environmental benefits of e-scooters could ‘propel’ such legislation forward.