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Following a spate of personal injury claims as a result of reckless e-scooter users, Rob Dempsey, personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors, states his concerns about the scheme and how the government could make changes going forwards.
“We are now approaching the halfway mark in the initial 12-month trial of e-scooter rentals across Britain, an appropriate time to assess its success, or lack thereof.
“The trials were rolled out as part of the innovative ‘Transport Zones’ policies, which were given a fresh impetus by the pandemic in the hope of reducing public transport use. It has subsequently seen the use of rental schemes spread to more than 50 towns and cities, far beyond the four transport zones originally envisaged.
“When the trial began, the law was changed to allow e-scooters on the streets, within the narrow parameters of the rental schemes, and a number of safety concerns were raised. Inexperienced users could find themselves on busy roads and cycle paths and the small wheels on the e-scooters are particularly vulnerable to potholes.
“However, it seems that the most significant danger is to pedestrians. Numerous reports across the country have given examples of pedestrians being struck by e-scooters or vulnerable road users falling over abandoned scooters in the street resulting in serious injury.
“Figures indicate around 70 injuries have arisen during the trial period so far. There are also reports of people riding the scooters whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. None of these can be a surprise and all were cited as potential risks before the trials began. Indeed, a pedestrian in Kent suffered a fractured leg, fractured arm and shattered elbow as a result of being hit by an e-scooter, describing it as “being hit by a car.”
“So the question remains, could we have prevented these injuries, and what can we learn from them?
“When the consultation process for the introduction of rental e-scooters was underway, it was mooted that scooters should weigh no more than 35kg and have a maximum speed of 12.5 mph. This was supported by safety campaigners and so when it was eventually announced the scooters could weigh up to 55kg with a maximum speed of 15.5mph, it seemed a victory for the supporters of scooters over safety campaigners. The potential implications are clear. A sturdy mountain bike weighs around only 12kg, more than 40kg lighter than an e-scooter.
“Whilst the department of transport took responsibility for the design and construction of the scooters allowed on the roads, they took a lighter touch with other aspects of their use, leaving local authorities and private rental companies to address issues such as where scooters can be parked, how many should be used, and to what extent users should receive training. This begs the question as to whether there should be a more uniform national approach.
“As part of the ongoing review, Transport Nottingham considered the scheme to mark the halfway point of the trial. They acknowledged that whilst there was some support for the scheme (a daily average of more than 1,500 riders in the last two months), not everything has gone well, with inconsiderate parking, illegal or dangerous use, and drunk riding being singled out.
“Safety campaigners would say this is no surprise – in fact it was anticipated and cited as a concern before the scheme was introduced. The Nottingham example shows, however, that a significant emphasis is being put on the e-scooter providers themselves to address these issues rather than as part of a wider government strategy, with the rental company sharing educational videos on the app, suspending accounts where there has been misuse and employing ‘ambassadors’ to monitor the use of the scooters.
“The introduction of the rental schemes has led to confusion and the mistaken belief that e-scooters in general are now legal in the U.K. They are not. Their use outside the scheme on public roads will result in fines and penalty points on your licence, yet they are still a common sight on Britain’s roads.
“Major retailers are playing their part in this. The introduction of the trials coincided with displays in shops selling e-scooters and insurance companies are now offering bespoke insurance for individual e-scooter use, which validates e-scooters as an accepted part of Britain’s roads alongside motorcycles and cars.
“This adds to the feeling of inevitability that one day, e-scooters will be a common feature on our roads, especially now the genie is out of the bottle with the rental schemes. Even if e-scooters are not legalised for the general public, it is unlikely the rental schemes will be abandoned. Infrastructure has been put in place and rental schemes are common across Europe.
“With that in mind, the focus should be on closer monitoring of use, some level of formalised training before use, and penalties for misuse. Whether these powers should be with rental companies or government is open to discussion.”