Across Devon & Cornwall significant numbers of people are riding e-scooters daily. Chris Cuddihee has represented a youth charged with riding an e-scooter without insurance and without a driver’s licence in a case which is a reminder that e-scooters are currently illegal to use on a public highway, for instance a pavement, a road or a cycle lane, unless operated as part of the current Government trial. Legislation means e-scooters are treated as motor vehicles.
The legal position is that since about July 2020 a Government trial permitting use of e-scooters in public places is in operation in a number of areas across the UK. The only area of Devon & Cornwall part of the Government trial is Barnstaple, North Devon where individuals may ride only within a designated area. The trial ends in November 2021. The Government has indicated it will make a decision afterwards whether to permit wider public use of e-scooters.
Legislation regarding the above trial means e-scooters may only be used on a public highway within a ‘trial area’ as part of the Government trial, an e-scooter must be hired from an approved provider who will also arrange appropriate insurance cover and the rider must, for example, be over 16 and hold a full or provisional driver’s licence.
This means whilst purchasing or owning an e-scooter and/or use of it on private land is legal, and they can be purchased online or on the high street in all the familiar places, use by an individual on a public highway outside of the Government trial is currently illegal.
As a result, riders outside of the trial areas may be liable for obvious offences such as driving motor vehicle without insurance or without a driver’s licence. However, whether inside or outside a trial area, riders may be liable for potentially much more significant criminal offences due to legislation classifying e-scooters as motor vehicles.
For example, someone riding an e-scooter over the legal limit for alcohol or drugs is likely to face a driving disqualification of a minimum of 12 months. A rider is challenged by police for a breath test who refuses a sample also faces a potential driving disqualification of a minimum of 12 months.
If a rider is involved in a collision with a pedestrian or vehicle, even more serious charges could potentially follow such as dangerous driving or causing injury as a result of dangerous driving. In some cases of that kind, imprisonment maybe the result.
If there are any currently disqualified drivers considering an e-scooter to be an ideal cheap solution to their transportation challenges because they can’t currently drive a car then my advice is don’t. Use of an e-scooter whilst banned is likely to amount to driving whilst disqualified which also potentially carries a sentence of imprisonment – and an extra driving ban.
Police have been very clear they will seize e-scooters being used in Devon & Cornwall outside of the Government trial and also prosecute individuals. My client, for example, was required to pay £160 to recover their e-scooter from the police pound.
My client was a responsible young person, not a joyrider, living a long way away from home for work, his family had advised him to buy one not realising the law and so my client had been riding the e-scooter only to work in a responsible way when stopped by police. Happily, for the client and the family the Crown Prosecution Service were satisfied this wasn’t a case that ought to be prosecuted and withdrew the charges.
However, this case is a salutary reminder that ignorance of the law is no defence and anyone currently using or seriously considering using an e-scooter outside of the Government trial area ought to think very seriously about doing so because the legal consequences could be very serious indeed.