October 7, 2020
Our pavements are becoming increasingly busy places to be. Once the safe space preserved for pedestrians to move about without fear of coming into conflict with fast-moving vehicles; pedestrians are having to get used to sharing this safe space with other users. We are used to seeing cyclists use the pavements to avoid particularly busy or hazardous sections of roads and there has been a significant increase in the number of powered mobility scooters both on and off the pavement.
Both nationally and globally we are being encouraged to rethink the way we move about our towns and cities with the emphasis being on avoiding using our cars and moving towards greener methods of transport.
In more recent years we have seen the emergence of the e-scooter as a mode of transport. Many countries have trialled the use of e-scooters and they are becoming common place sights in many cities. Powered by a motor; e-scooters may seem the ideal green option to whiz about our congested cities avoiding the traffic and the need to rely on public transport. They also seem to offer an easy and fun way to travel.
Currently it is illegal to buy and use an e-scooter on the road in the UK; however rental e-scooters are currently being explored. Earlier this year a trial of rental e-scooters was commenced in the West Midlands; similar to the bike-sharing schemes already in operation in most cities. The trial was originally intended to be later in 2021 but was brought forward to provide an alternative to using busy commuter trains and trams during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rental e-scooters are banned from pavements but allowed on roads. There has been a recent push for legalisation of e-scooters by the Transport Committee of MPs citing their green credentials; however, they have acknowledged there are safety concerns in relation to their use.
Just how safe are they for both the user and for others on the roads and pavements?
The difficulty lies in the enforcement of the law regarding their use. Although the scooters are only intended for use on the road or on designated cycle paths; it is easy to envisage e-scooters being ridden on the pavements where the roads are busy or there are insufficient cycle paths. This means they present a hazard to pedestrians, who are vulnerable to suffering personal injury, should a collision take place between scooter rider and pedestrian. They are virtually silent and can travel at speeds of up to 30mph (although their speed is likely to be limited to around 15.5mph). They are also able to change direction quickly. They are particularly dangerous for more vulnerable pedestrians such as young children, those with prams, the elderly or the visually impaired. It is telling that the trial of rental e-scooters in Coventry was put on hold only 5 days following its rollout in September 2020 due to the number of people using them on pavements.
There are also risks for those using the scooters. There have been concerns raised regarding the scooters themselves and the potential for an e-scooter accident. Most designs do not have mirrors or indicators which makes it difficult for the rider to react to the traffic around them and for other vehicles to judge their direction of travel. They are not easy to see and there is the temptation for riders to ‘nip’ in and out of queues of traffic. The rider is also vulnerable due to their standing position on the scooters. If involved in a collision (with another vehicle, a pedestrian or bollards/signage etc) it is likely they will be thrown forward; with a significantly increased risk of sustaining a head injury. The leading UK brain injury association Headway has advised that helmets should be mandatory for those using e-scooters.
Several other charities have raised concerns regarding the use of e-scooters including Brake and the National Federation for the Blind, citing the risk they present of causing serious injury to the riders or to others. The dangers involved were brought sharply into focus in the summer of 2019 following the tragic death of Emily Hartridge (a well-known TV and YouTube presenter) when she was hit by a lorry in London whilst riding an e-scooter.
It remains to be seen whether e-scooters will be legalised in the UK and become a regular sight on our roads. Much will need to be done prior to this to ensure that the infrastructure is in place and the laws made clear to protect both the rider and others using our pavements and roads.
Our Serious Injury Team at Spencers Solicitors are experienced in dealing with claims involving pedestrians and road traffic collisions resulting in serious, life-changing injuries.
About the Author
Mary Kay is a Solicitor within our Serious Injury Team.
Mary joined the business in 1997 after graduating from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a degree in English Literature. Mary subsequently successfully completed a Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course whilst working full time. Mary qualified as a Solicitor in 2007 and has worked within the Serious Injury Team for over ten years dealing with high value, complex injury claims. Mary has extensive experience dealing with a wide variety of claims including catastrophic injury claims, accidents involving fatalities and cases involving serious orthopaedic and psychological injuries.