BY JACK WATSON
An electric scooter, or e-scooter, is a two-wheeled manual scooter, except it is propelled by a motor. Many people seem to be in awe of them at the moment, including Toby Young of The Spectator, and they have become a popular mode of transport. Others find them a nuisance and if they cannot be made safer or if people do not start using them carefully, they hope they are removed from the streets.
Currently, E-scooters are legal to ride in the UK, but only in trial areas and only if the scooter is hired. Privately owned e-scooters may not be used on British roads. However, you can ride them on private land if the owner grants you permission.
This is because they do not comply with the law; they are classed as motor vehicles, but they do not have rear lights or registration plates. If you are caught on a public highway driving one of these, you could face a fine with a risk of having the scooter impounded, as you would be driving a motor vehicle with no insurance.
The aforementioned trials using hired e-scooters are taking place in some areas but to drive an e-scooter you must have a category Q licence, which enables you to drive a two-wheeled or three-wheeled vehicle without pedals, with a 50cc or less engine and a maximum speed of 15.5 mph and only on roads; it is illegal to use them on a pavement.
So why are these things being driven all over my city, Hull, by young teenagers most of whom do not have a driver’s licence. These e-scooters have an average speed of 15-30 mph; however, the speed limit of trial e-scooters is currently capped at 15.5 mph. Commercially available models are sold with a speed limiter set to around 15 mph but it is easy to disable the speed limiter—and many people do given the speeds at which they travel—and instructions are freely available on the Internet.
E-scooters are dangerous. The Department of Transport published figures in 2021 showing that the number of collisions increased from 460 in 2020 to 1,352 in 2021. According to PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety), the number of deaths caused by them is increasing:
They are widely used on pavements which is a threat to the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and people driving mobility scooters, who are using the pavements. For example, Peter Hitchens, a very vocal campaigner against e-scooters reported walking on the pavement when a man on an electric scooter – going at considerable speed – skimmed past him and did not stop to apologise. I have witnessed paramedics give medical treatment to someone on the pavement who fell off their e-scooter and they could easily have also hit someone else.
Legalisation of these e-scooters looks likely as they are being widely trialled in the UK. This is like the ‘all-new-electric Boris bikes’ which you pay for, that are accessible in London, for 24 hours. The problem with these electric bikes was that once these had run out of power, people were not returning them to their docking station. The same is already happening with the trail e-scooters. For example, in Colchester, electric trail scooters have been left abandoned in the middle of the pavements causing people to trip up and the path to be blocked. Elsewhere, in Germany, more than 500 e-scooters have been discovered dumped at the bottom of the river Rhine.
Although they do not pollute the air whilst being ridden; 50% of the carbon impact of e-scooters is linked to the production process for their batteries. E-scooter battery packs are made of many individual battery cells composed of lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries. A 2019 study shows that 40% of the total climate impact caused by the production of lithium-ion batteries comes from the mining process itself, which is unhelpful. Also, the mining in Africa is often done by young boys working for slave wages. The processes used in removal of this raw material can result in water shortages and damage to ecosystems. Despite that, people riding e-scooters believe that they help reduce carbon emissions, akin to electric cars, which are also not as ‘green’ as they are painted.
Until the authorities get to grips with electric scooters, many people will continue to whizz through public places at incredible speeds knowing that they will get away with it, with smug smiles on their faces. Injuries and deaths will increase as a result.
Jack Watson is a 14-year-old schoolboy, who has a Substack about being a Hull City fan. You can subscribe to it here.