As widely anticipated, the government has set out the changes which will allow for e-scooter trials. They are to be classified as motor vehicles and certain regulations will be relaxed for the trials, but not the need for compulsory motor insurance. The permission for road use will be for authorised hire schemes only and it appears that the insurance arrangements will, in effect, be at fleet level rather than by way of individual policies. Privately bought and owned e-scooters will remain illegal for road use for the time being.
The government has brought forward e-scooter trials on the basis that they may provide an effective way to get around and to avoid public transport during the current pandemic. The outcome of the recent short DfT consultation, to which over 2,000 responses were submitted, was published yesterday and is very clear that “the proposals are designed to enable effective trials of e-scooters to be run, and therefore apply only to and for the duration of the trials. They do not predict what regulations for e-scooters may be in the future and any future regulations may differ from what we have proposed here.”
The detail, such as it is, of the regulatory changes necessary to permit the trials was set out by the DfT here, and addresses insurance issues thus: “E-scooters in trials need to be covered by a motor vehicle insurance policy – it is understood rental operators will ensure a policy is in place that covers users of the vehicles.”
What this strongly suggests is that the insurance will be to the full extent required by the Road Traffic Act, provided by an authorised motor insurer and taken out by the rental scheme operator to cover authorised hirers of the relevant trial ‘fleet’ of e-scooters within the area in which the particular trial applies (note that trials will not be UK-wide as Northern Ireland is excluded from yesterday’s announcement). Assuming the e-scooters are accessed by an app via which the user registers and pays for the hire then the insurance would look to have features of ‘pay as you go’ cover.
Inevitably, classifying e-scooters as motor vehicles (although subject to relaxation of certain regulations) and introducing compulsory insurance means that harm arising from the uninsured use of e-scooters will come with the scope of the MIB.
Privately owned e-scooters will remain illegal for road use, although whether this distinction will be readily understood by the public is far from clear. It has been said that over 200,000 e-scooters have already been sold to private owners.
Following the consultation, the DfT has increased some of the relevant technical limits: the maximum design speed will be 15.5 mph rather than 12.5 mph (which is the same limit as for electrically assisted pedal cycles or EAPCs), mass will be 55kg rather than 35kg and power will be 500W rather than 350W. These increases could add significantly to the energy involved in any accident and could therefore have an effect on the severity of harm likely to be caused.
By coincidence, the Commons Transport Committee held – remotely – an oral evidence session on e-scooters this morning. A great deal of the session focused on the shift in transport modes likely to be caused by the use of e-scooters, on the environmental aspects of e-scooter manufacture and use but there was relatively little discussion of the insurance points.
The academic and stakeholder witnesses (including the AA and the RNIB) were particularly concerned about the near inevitability of ecooters being ridden on pavements. Safety generally was a key topic, with the increased risk for riders, when compared to cycles, being: their vertical stance, the smaller wheels and the narrower steering; all of which may contribute to a poorer level of stability.
The possibility of street and pavement ‘clutter’ was also raised and some witnesses noted this had arisen in UK cities with advent of dockless cycle and e-bike hire schemes. One solution proposed was to provide designated kerbed parking areas within the road space and to prohibit leaving them on the pavement. Another was simply to prohibit dockless schemes, something which looks very unlikely given the DfT’s advice yesterday that “where a dockless operating model is being used, local authorities should ensure that e-scooters do not become obstructive to other road users and pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities.”
The DfT has explained that data from the trials will inform the future legal regime for escooters, stating that “following trials, we may look to amend the law to treat e-scooters more like EAPCs, which are not treated as ‘motor vehicles’ in law”. This could suggest that the compulsory insurance arrangements for the trials are not necessarily going to be in place in the medium to longer term. Surely it is simply premature to resolve this? The trials are about to start and the better course must be to allow data about the frequency and severity of accidents and claims caused by e-scooters during the trial periods to inform any future decision on the appropriate insurance arrangements.