E-scooters have become a common sight on our pavements, roads and cycle lanes during Covid. Although many e-scooter riders are undoubtedly sensible and cautious, the author recently saw two teenagers on e-scooters riding at speed around a ‘blind’ corner, at a junction, on the wrong side of the road, at dusk and without lights or helmets. There are plenty of ‘accidents waiting to happen’, so what is the relevant law, and what happens when an e-scooter hits, or is hit by, another road user or a pedestrian, cyclist or horse rider etc.?
The law states that E-scooters can only be ridden legally in the UK on private land unless they are being hired in specific cities as part of Government trials. As Powered Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV’s), they are classed as ‘motor vehicles’ and in the same category as mopeds. Consequently riders require a driving licence, insurance and helmets. Under the hiring schemes, there are specific exemptions from the need to wear helmets or to undergo motorcycle training, although the rider needs to have a licence and the hiring provider will arrange insurance centrally. There is therefore a huge gap between the law and reality when it comes to the use of E-scooters. The author has not seen a single e-scooter rider being stopped by the Police, despite having seen a great number being ridden around his home town.
As road users we all owe a duty others to take reasonable care. When one injures another through a lack of care, then a compensation claim can result. If a negligent e-scooter rider injures another road user (including a scooter pillion passenger), a claim can be made against the scooter rider for injuries and losses. What about insurance? Under the trial hire schemes, there has to be insurance cover in place. Generally, however, this is a problem area and it is highly likely that the rider will not have taken out specific insurance. Household insurers are likely to refuse cover under ‘third party’ liability clauses because of the standard ‘motor vehicle’ exemption. This leaves the Motor Insurers’ Bureau which, as the law stands, would be liable to pay any claim brought by an injured third party.
If an e-scooter rider or passenger is injured through the negligence of another road user, then they will have a compensation claim. A claim should not be ruled out for illegality (ex turpi causa, as it is known) ie the fact that the e-scooter is being ridden in breach of the law has nothing to do with the negligence of the other road user. However, a rider or passenger’s claim may be reduced for contributory negligence.
Moving forward, it seems that Parliament could change the law to facilitate/ promote the environmental benefits of electric transport versus petrol. Some would argue that E-scooters have a lot more in common with bicycles than they do with mopeds, but that we need to avoid a ‘free for all’. As with bicycles, every rider would be well advised to wear a helmet and put insurance coverage in place, but should this be compulsory? That will be a matter for Parliament. There is a need for legal clarity; people need to know where they stand (so to speak).
Paul Fretwell is solicitor and Head of George Ide’s Personal Injury department. If you would like more advice about claims arising from road accidents, please contact us on 01243 786668 or at email@example.com
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