The latest from the Editor’s smoking keyboard.
The tragic death of a young woman on an e-scooter has brought the safety issues and legal status of these vehicles into the mainstream media, which can only be a good thing. Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding this particular case, the strategy of turning a blind eye to the road – and pavement – use of electric scooters by adults aged 18 and over isn’t viable anymore, for the Police, CPS and the UK government.
OK, e-scooter use is a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, but it is good to see the Metropolitan Police issuing warnings to urban hipsters in London over the last week, and at least threatening to prosecute a few of them.
In the long run, what is needed is a legal definition of what type of vehicles e-scooters are, compared to electric bicycles, electric mountain bikes, mobility scooters, electric scooters similar to Vespas, Speedfights etc or those ridiculous talking hoverboard things that children like to use every Boxing Day before a trip to A&E.
For example, the government might seek to classify e-scooters as lightweight battery powered two-wheelers, with operators liable for injury and third party damage caused by their actions. This would make sense in the light of the Vnuk judgement and the EU’s subsequent policy of making some sort of insurance cover mandatory for anyone driving any type of powered vehicle, on or off-road. But is it workable?
The logical outcome of marrying up the EU strategy of making cover compulsory, and the politicians need to be seen to be doing something on road safety, will probably lead to legislation which makes it legal to ride an e-scooter in a cycle lane, but owners/hirers must have third party cover. To enforce that, the next step is to require DVLA registration of electric vehicles, even if it is a cost-free database, as a sop to the green lobby. Without registration, how do you prosecute those who ride scooters on the pavement, or the public highway OUTSIDE of the cycle lane?
All electric bicycles, buzzboards and mobility scooters may be wrapped up in the new catch-all laws, which might alienate some older voters, but equally may well please many drivers who see both cyclists and the disabled as some type of public nuisance – although they dare not speak those thoughts, for fear of thoughtcrime arrest.
Of course the real safety solution is to build Dutch/Danish type infrastructure, where the new generation of electric vehicles and old fashioned pedal cycles, can use their own bespoke lanes, with traffic lights and marked junctions – entirely separated from motorised transport. But that idea simply doesn’t sink in at Westminster, or in large Councils, because politicians generally fail to grasp basic commonsense concepts on a daily basis.
Insurance for electric scooters will happen then and politicians will hail this as a good thing. Which it is, even though under-18s and criminals will ignore the new law. However, the unintended outcome of forcing e-scooter, and mobility scooter, riders to have TP insurance, is that users will be able to sue councils and Highways Agencies, for failing to maintain the designated lanes, dropped kerbs, signage and so on, and therefore being held liable for contributory negligence.
For both claims specialists and insurers, the e-scooter issue isn’t going away anytime soon, especially as car ownership continues to decline amongst the under 30s who live in cities. Alternative transport solutions are here to stay and somehow the question of who pays when an accident happens and an adult is in charge needs to be sorted out.