Electric scooters are becoming more and more popular in the UK, but UK laws on e-scooters aren’t always clear. With rental schemes popping up across the country, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before they become a fully regulated form of transport. Here, we uncover the key facts around e-scooter UK law.
Are electric scooters legal?
At the moment, privately-owned electric scooters are illegal to use on the public highway in the UK. You can only ride privately-owned e-scooters on private land, with the landowner’s permission.
However, it’s completely legal to buy, sell, own and keep an e-scooter.
Rental e-scooters as part of current nationwide trial schemes are permitted for use on the public highway, subject to local rules and regulations, usually within a certain geographical area (sometimes called ‘geo-zoning’).
Can I ride an electric scooter on the road?
It’s currently illegal to use a privately-owned e-scooter on the public highway (roads, pavements or cycle paths).
However, it is legal to ride a rental e-scooter where a trial rental scheme exists (subject to local rules and regulations) and having a ‘Q’ category on your full or provisional driving licence. You can ride a privately-owned e-scooter on private land with the landowner’s permission without a full or provisional driving licence.
E-scooters are included under the relatively new term “powered transporters”, which also includes devices such as Segways, hoverboards and powered unicycles. There is no specific law that governs powered transporters, so they are covered under the same laws as all motor vehicles.
Can I ride an electric scooter on the pavement?
A pavement is classified as part of the public highway, which means that it is also illegal to ride an e-scooter on one (unless, of course, that pavement was privately-owned, and you had the owner’s permission to use it).
In fact, the 1835 Highways Act is the most up-to-date law that relates to this, effectively classifying an e-scooter as a ‘carriage’:
"If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers; or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway; or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon."
It is also illegal to use a rental e-scooter on the pavement – these can only be used on the road (except motorways) and in cycle lanes, although government guidelines do provide leeway for local lawmakers to prohibit rental e-scooter use on certain cycle ways if they wish.
Do I need a licence to ride an electric scooter?
To use a rental e-scooter legally, you need to hold a valid full or provisional driving licence with the ‘Q’ category listed. Driving licences with the categories ‘AM’, ‘A’, or ‘B’ include the ‘Q’ category.
Privately-owned e-scooters remain illegal to use on public highways, even if you have a licence.
Will electric scooter laws change soon?
While the current law is certainly outdated, there is strong evidence of change in the past three years, with more set to come that may see the legalisation of privately-owned e-scooter use.
In July 2018, The Department of Transport (DfT) began its ‘The Future of Mobility’ consultation to examine new methods of transport – including e-scooters – and how the UK’s infrastructure and current laws might need to adapt to these new technologies.
Since then, Bird set up its innovative trial at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London which enabled locals and visitors to ride rental e-scooters in the area, and in the summer of 2020 the UK Government gave guidance on rental e-scooter schemes so that local councils could work with rental providers (such as Bird, Lime and Voi) to set them up across the country.
The Covid-19 pandemic arguably accelerated this process as the need for more effective, hygienic, healthy and environmentally friendly personal transport solutions became a higher priority.
Where can I ride a rental electric scooter?
As of April 2021, there are 32 regions operating rental schemes across many of the main urban areas of the UK, including:
- Bournemouth and Poole
- Buckinghamshire (Aylesbury and High Wycombe)
- Cheshire West and Chester (Chester)
- Copeland (Whitehaven)
- Essex (Basildon, Chelmsford, Colchester and Clacton)
- Gloucestershire (Cheltenham and Gloucester)
- Great Yarmouth
- Kent (Canterbury)
- Milton Keynes
- North and West Northamptonshire (Northampton, Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough)
- North Devon (Barnstaple)
- North Lincolnshire (Scunthorpe)
- Oxfordshire (Oxford)
- Solent (Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton)
- Somerset West (Taunton)
- South Somerset (Yeovil, Chard and Crewkerne)
- Staffordshire (Stafford and Newcastle-Under-Lyme)
- Tees Valley (Hartlepool and Middlesbrough)
- West Midlands (Birmingham, Coventry and Sandwell)
- West of England Combined Authority (Bristol and Bath)
Where can I ride a rental electric scooter?
The rental schemes are designed to test the principle of e-scooters in every day public life. Once the trial period concludes in the latter part of 2021, the UK Government will likely enter another consultation phase, before proposing any permanent law changes in parliament.
The rental schemes are effectively a series of ‘test cases’ and fact-finding initiatives on e-scooter use, so that laws can eventually be drawn up to address how e-scooters can be used safely and effectively.
The UK Government has stated its intention to address the legal status of both privately-owned and rental e-scooters with its trials.
Why are electric bikes legal when electric scooters are not?
Electric bikes are categorised in law as “electrically-assisted pedal cycles” (EAPCs), which means that they have specific laws governing them. This effectively legalises their use, subject to the regulations set out by the UK Government.
Privately-owned e-scooters (as powered transporters) are not governed by specific laws yet, so they remain subject to outdated rules and are illegal to ride on the public highway.
Pure Electric believes that the current legal status of privately-owned e-scooters is outdated and in need of refreshing. E-scooters (both privately-owned and rental) have clear potential to help clean up our urban areas and environment, moving the focus away from polluting car and congested public transport use and towards a healthier way of living.
We are supportive of the current trial rental schemes and are looking forward to further developments in due course. Be sure to check back to this article regularly – we’ll be keeping updated with the latest news concerning e-scooter legalisation.