Public e-scooter rental trials are set to be extended for another eight months at least, but the ongoing issue of illegal private e-scooters in Britain remains as we enter 2022. Safety concerns are at the forefront of any conversations around e-scooters, which could and should be a revolutionary mode of transport in the UK.

The trials may introduce compulsory ID plates and officials hope that safety data will be gathered during the proposed extended trial period, but is that enough to secure not only an acceptable safety standard, but also public confidence?

Having previously detailed the challenges and dangers around the increased use of e-scooters in the UK, in this article Lucie Clinch looks at the differences in e-scooter use across Europe and whether lessons can be learned from their positions.

France (Paris)

There are roughly 15,000 rental e-scooters in use across Paris on any given day. According to la Fédération Française de l’Assurance (French Insurance Federation), 11% of people regularly use “motorized personal transport devices”, as they are classed under French legislation. Any person over the age of 12 is permitted to use an e-scooter, as long as it cannot travel faster than 25km/h. Anyone riding aged 12-18 should be accompanied by an adult (on a separate vehicle as sharing is not permitted).

A fatal incident involving an e-scooter and pedestrian in June 2021 lead to restrictions on e-scooter use in Paris from November 2021 onwards. In 700 areas of the city that attract high numbers of pedestrians, including public parks, gardens and tourist areas, e-scooter speeds are limited to 10km/h. Paris e-scooter providers Lime, Tier and Dott restrict speeds once scooters enter designated areas. Authorities are also working on initiatives to resolve the hazard of discarded e-scooters in the city, seeking photos of the parked e-scooter at the end of a rental period, and have given local police more powers to issue fines.

In France any person over age 12 can use an e-scooter, limited to 25km/h. Lights, horn and reflective elements and a helmet are all required by law in France on higher speed roads, but e-scooter users need not possess a valid driving license. E-scooters are not allowed on pavements or country roads.

Denmark (Copenhagen)

An early trailblazer city for e-scooter use, Copenhagen’s early e-scooters could not be legally used on public roads. A change in this approach lead to a flooded e-scooter market and numerous discarded e-scooters around the city, leading to a total ban in 2020.

Almost a year later, in June 2021, e-scooters were allowed to return to Copenhagen, albeit with strict limitations on their use within rental schemes. Copenhagen’s administration described the previous use of e-scooters as “unregulated chaos”, announcing that the 3,200 rental scooters deployed on the roads are banned from being picked up or dropped off in densely populated areas of the city and requiring them to be parked only in designated zones. This is not good news for rental providers, Voi and Tier, who face rentals limited to outside the city centre with potentially fewer users as a result. The ultimate problem will be the anticipated increase in private ownership of e-scooters in the city.

It remains illegal to ride an e-scooter on the pavement in Denmark and the minimum age for riding an e-scooter without an adult is 15 years old, though they are treated like bicycles in relation to traffic rules. Lights and reflectors are mandatory, but insurance is not unless the e-scooter is part of a rental scheme. The use of helmets only became mandatory on 1 January 2022 and riders now risk a fine if caught without one.

Spain

Rules surrounding “personal mobility vehicles” have been tightened in recent years as Spanish legislators push to improve the safety of their roads. E-scooters were legalised in 2021 but cannot be used on pavements, in tunnels or on motorways. E-scooters are now considered vehicles and ‘drivers’ are obliged to comply with national traffic laws in the same way drivers of cars or motorbikes do.

At night, riders must have white lights at the front and red lights at the back of their scooter and the use of earphones at any time while riding a scooter is prohibited. Helmets are not mandatory, but reflective clothing is. There is also no requirement to have a driving license but no national age limit for e-scooter use. Many of Spain’s municipalities and cities have however implemented their own minimum age rules. For example, riders in Mallorca and Madrid must be at least 15 years old. E-scooters are not allowed on pavements, intercity roads, motorways, bypasses, highways or city tunnels. In Barcelona, a rider can face fines up to €500 for riding on a pavement.

Germany

E-scooters are already an extremely prominent part of urban transport in Germany and it seems that the country is streets ahead with e-scooter regulation and legalisation. There are well in excess of 150,000 scooters available for hire, the highest number in Europe, and Germany is currently the only European nation where e-scooters also require a registration plate sticker as an insurance indicator.

These “small electric vehicles” can only be ridden by those over the age of 14 and must have at least one bell or horn. Whilst a helmet is not mandatory, e-scooters must be manufactured up to government-mandated standards. Only those manufactured as such are eligible for an Allgemeines Betriebserlaubnis (ABE), which is necessary to obtain insurance. To get an ABE, an e-scooter must have a holding bar, no more than a 1,500 watt motor and a maximum speed of 20 km/h. They also need front and rear lights, independent brakes and a horn.

What can the UK learn?

As UK legislators consider the path forward for e-scooters, it is evident that lessons can be learned from their European counterparts. Cities such as Copenhagen and Paris have enforced strict regulations on e-scooter use in their most densely populated areas, while also introducing more fines and monitoring by police or task forces. Pedestrian safety must be considered as part of any road rules for e-scooters. That said, the wider use of e-scooters as a viable transport option in European cities may be a sign of where the UK might follow.

Whilst laws around categorisation, insurance and safety will vary from country to country or even district to district, it is important within the UK that we establish a clear and easily understandable regime to maximise safety of riders and other vulnerable road users.