Are e-scooters illegal? What the UK law says about where and when you can ride them, and are they safe?

The rules on using electric scooters on public roads, including around driving licences and insurance, plus how dangerous are they?

E-scooters have proved controversial

With Christmas just around the corner, the UK is expected to see a boom in sales of e-scooters.

Some retailers are already heavily promoting the compact vehicles, with prices ranging from less than £100 to almost £1,000, as ideal gifts or an alternative mode of transport for commuters.

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Yet, despite their growing popularity, there is a lack of understanding of the laws around e-scooters and significant concerns about their safety after reports of a number of fatal accidents involving the devices.

Are e-scooters illegal in the UK?

(Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)

E-scooters are not illegal in the UK and you can buy, sell and own one perfectly legally.

However, it is illegal to use an e-scooter in public unless it is rented as part of a recognised trial scheme.

Using an e-scooter on private land is legal but for public use they are classed as powered transporters, which means e-scooters are covered by the same laws that govern the use of cars and other motor vehicles.

That means it is illegal to ride them on pavements, footpaths, cycle lanes and in pedestrianised zones.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

To be ridden on public roads they need to conform to the same rules as cars, with licence plates, indicators, rear lights, tax and insurance but those currently on sale don’t comply with these conditions.

The only exception to these laws is the government-approved trials being carried out in 32 cities around the UK.

E-scooters hired through these schemes can be ridden on roads and cycle paths and are insured by the operators. The scooters are limited to 15.5mph, with lower limits imposed in some areas via geofencing. Privately-owned e-scooters aren’t covered by the trials and are still illegal to use in public.

Do I need a driving licence to ride an e-scooter?

Yes. The trial schemes all require riders to hold a UK driving licence with a Q entitlement.

A full or provisional licence for categories AM, A or B includes entitlement for category Q. If you have one of these licences, you can use an e-scooter.

Riders with overseas licences can also use the trial scooters as long as they have a full licence that entitles them to drive a small vehicle, such as a car or motorbike.

What are the fines and penalties for using an e-scooter illegally?

Riders caught using an e-scooter illegally face the same punishments as other drivers breaking the law.

These include fines of up to £300 and up to six penalty points on your driving licence. Serious offences could lead to a driving disqualification and police can also impound your scooter.

Are e-scooters dangerous?

A number of incidents where people have been killed or seriously injured in e-scooter crashes have highlighted concerns over their suitability and safety.

At least four people in the UK have died as a result of incidents involving the scooters and earlier this year a three-year-old in London was left with life-changing injuries after being hit by one.

The Department for Transport released the first data on casualties involving e-scooters, showing that in 2020, one person was killed and 128 seriously injured. In total, 484 casualties were recorded. Most were riders themselves, but 100 other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists also suffered serious injuries.

In 2019, Youtuber Emily Hartridge became the first person to die following a crash while riding an e-scooter. The following year, Julian Thomas, 55, died after crashing into a parked car. In June 2021, 20-year-old Shakur Amoy Pinnock also died from injuries suffered after his e-scooter collided with a car. And this July a 16-year-old was knocked off his scooter and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

There are also reports from around the country of pedestrians being struck and injured, sometimes seriously by e-scooter riders and the National Federation of the Blind has warned that the near-silent vehicles are creating “no-go areas” for the visually impaired.

The exact number of crashes and injuries associated with e-scooters is unclear but the Met Police has said it believes the number of incidents is under-reported. In London, the number of reported collisions jumped from four in 2018 to 32 in 2019.

According to an investigation by ITV’s Tonight programme there have been 1,100 complaints and 210 people have suffered injuries in incidents involving e-scooters since trials began.

Transport for London carried out a comparison between cycling and e-scooter injuries using data from the US and concluded that the rate of serious injuries was around 100 times more for e-scooter rides than cyclists.

The government advice for the current trials is for riders to wear a helmet but there is no legal requirement for them to do so.

While the rental scooters are limited to 15.5mph, those on sale to the public can reach speeds of up to 50mph.