As widely anticipated, the government has this week set out the changes which will allow for e-scooter trials. Further detail on what this entails is covered in this morning’s blog here. Now, we look closer at the opportunities for manufacturers and retailers and what they can do to protect users and themselves from some very costly mistakes.
Whilst “greener travel” has been on the Government’s agenda for some time, the COVID crisis has launched this £2 billion investment plan into the headlines and expedited the Government’s plans to promote the use of the e-scooter rental schemes in the UK.
Such rental schemes are available in 100 cities around the world. Having experienced the use of one of these in Berlin, I can certainly confirm that they are an efficient and fun way to get around. However UK legislation does not currently enable users to use e-scooters on public highways and it will be interesting to see how the Government intends to relax the current rules.
Use of an e-scooter
E- scooters are propelled by a small engine. They can exceed speeds of 30mph and hence the use of these is currently regulated. The sad death of Emily Hartridge on the 12 July 2019 demonstrates the need to retain some regulation around the use of e- scooters on our roads. There is also a need to accept that cities are congested and Governments have an obligation to consider greener travel and resolve the problem of overcrowded public transport. Zipping around in the fresh air whilst helping the environment seems a logical solution.
However, at present such scooters are banned from use on public roads. They are classed as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVS) and treated as motor vehicles. Whilst they can be used on private land the owner is still required to have an MOT, insurance, tax and a driver’s licence. Using an e-scooter on a public road can result in a fine and 6 points on your licence.
Hence the rental scheme will need to change the current legislation governing the use of these vehicles.
The London Cycle Campaign (LCC) is calling for e-scooters to be legalised and it is entirely possible that if the rental scheme is a success the Government may relax the restrictions around the use of private e-scooters on public roads.
What does this mean for manufacturers and retailers?
This certainly provides an opportunity for e- scooter manufacturers and retailers and many may wish to get ahead of the game now. However, the use of private e-scooters on roads currently remains an offence – whether that is widely known amongst the general public is another matter.
Hence, it is important that manufacturers and retailers ensure that their user manuals and packaging are clear in terms of the restrictions which remain around the use of e- scooters.
On the one hand it is incumbent on a user to ensure that the use of a product is within the remits of the law, however there may be some confusion when the public see e-scooters being used in major cities in the UK, leading to an incorrect assumption that these have been legalised generally.
Section 9 of The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides that Goods must be of satisfactory quality. Safety is a criterion in assessing satisfactory quality and if the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (replaced by the Consumer Rights Act) is to be followed, instructions and warnings as to the use of the product go to the assessment of whether a product is safe.
Given the potential confusion to the public as the Government “relax” the rules around its rental scheme, it is important that manufacturers and retailers ensure that their user manuals remain clear and unambiguous as to the restrictions of an individual’s use of a private e-scooter. The manuals should make it clear that it continues to be an offence to use the scooter on a public road. Further, it continues to be necessary to treat an e-scooter as a motorised vehicle and as such the owner is required to have insurance, MOT, a driving licence and tax.
A civil claim either from the user of the e-scooter or by anyone injured as a result of misuse may result in an action against a manufacturer and/or retailer if the user instructions are not clear. It is foreseeable that in absence of clear warnings to the contrary the public may assume that it is now legal to use private (as opposed to rental) e-scooters on the road. It is easy to see how this misconception could arise when hundreds of e-scooters are shortly to be introduced to our city roads.
What if the law changes?
Even if the Government relax the rules around e-scooters generally, this does not mean that manufacturers and retailers can ignore warnings on misuse. As a producer of this product it is worth having a belt and braces approach to any user manuals by ensuring it is clear to the user that they are still required to comply with legislation in terms of the product’s use.
A niche product for insurers?
The above “greener“ approach to travel also provides some interesting opportunities for insurers. If the Government extend the use of e-scooters on public highways to privately owned e-scooters then arguably this could result in a niche insurance product, particularly as this may become the next craze to hit the streets.
Whilst some may find the speed at which the Government is pushing through the rental scheme and the safety issues associated with this, the use of e- scooters generally provides opportunities for those interested in this market, be it manufacturers, retailers or insurers.
Let’s watch this space.