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Should we be worried about e-scooters?

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The summer has finally arrived and with it the temptation for the infrequent motorcyclists to get their powerful motorcycles out of the garage and enjoy the freedom of the road. This year has also seen an increasing use of electric scooters (e-scooters) particularly amongst young teenagers.

Kelly White, specialist in serious injury claims from our personal injury team in Thames Valley asks if we should be worried about e-scooters? At the moment, electric scooters can only be used on private land. In legal terms e-scooters are more correctly described as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV) and so are “motor vehicles”. In order for their use on the public highway to be legal, they would have to meet the same requirements as “motor vehicles” (insurance, tax, license and registration).

Whether illegal or not they are now on our roads and pavements, unregulated and at times being ridden in a dangerous manner. Many are ridden by teenagers who have no experience of any form of driving and sometimes with “passengers” standing behind the driver travelling at speeds that would put most average cyclists to shame. Indeed, some manufacturers have suggested that their products can reach speeds of up to 40 MPH.

Rental trials may herald change in law

Nevertheless, it would seem the e-scooters are here to stay. Department of Transport electric scooter rental trials have been underway since summer 2020, extended until 2022. Local councils have been working with rental providers to test the viability of electric scooters as a safe means of public transport. The government is then likely to launch another consultation before any official changes to the law are proposed.

Who pays compensation?

In the meantime, private e-scooter use on public roads, pavements, in cycle lanes and in pedestrian-only areas remains illegal. This gives rise to the question who pays the compensation if someone is injured by an e-scooter? For example the teenager who riding on the pavement collides with an elderly person who falls and breaks their hip, or the child riding as a “passenger” standing behind the driver, is thrown off when taking a turn too quickly, or the car driver who is injured when swerving to avoid the e-scooter that suddenly pulls out from a side road and does not stop and rides off? In the absence of insurance cover, it would seem the MIB (Uninsured driver’s or Untraced driver’s schemes) would be liable to pick up such claims. In addition, as matters currently stand, this would also apply to accidents that happen on private land as well as the public highway.

E-scooters are different from other two wheeled forms of transport such as bicycles and motorcycles. The driver travels in a standing position and their speed at impact will be difficult to determine given that unlike car/pedestrian impacts, there is at present very little collision data to work with. What if the rider and/or passenger is not wearing a protective helmet? Will contributory negligence apply as it does to cyclists? The Department of Transport rental scheme does not require helmet use. How will these claims be defended?

Kelly says: “We know from the claims we undertake on behalf of injured cyclists that when a person’s head hits the hard tarmac surface of a road, kerb or pavement or a car runs into the side of a bike the outcome is usually a serious, and in many cases, a life changing serious injury. As many young inexperienced risk-taking teenagers begin to acquire their new form of transport, I fear that there may well be an increase in this summer’s transport related serious injury accidents.”

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