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UK government accelerates e-scooter trials

Image credit: lime

The government is bringing the first trials for e-scooter rentals into force next week (from 6 July). The trials will be used as an opportunity to consider the vehicles’ safety, green credentials and effect on traffic reduction.

E-scooters are an increasingly popular mode of transport in UK cities, although it remains illegal to use them on pavements or roads.

The Metropolitan Police stopped nearly 100 e-scooter riders in London in a single week in July 2019; while most riders were given a warning, 10 were fined and had their vehicles seized due to aggravating factors such as speeding or ignoring red lights. In the same month, TV presenter and popular YouTuber Emily Hartridge became the first person in the UK to be killed while riding an e-scooter.

While the e-scooter trial was originally intended to run during 2021, it has been brought forward and broadened amid the coronavirus pandemic as a socially distanced and green alternative to using public transport.

Use of rental e-scooters on roads will be legalised later this week ahead of a 12-month trial to assess their suitability as a mode of transport. The vehicles will be permitted on roads, cycle lanes and tracks, but strictly prohibited from use on pavements. The e-scooters will be limited to 15.5mph and riders will need a full or provisional car, motorbike or moped license, must be at least 16 years old and will be encouraged to wear a helmet.

The trials are designed to help understand the impact of introducing the vehicles onto UK roads, including their impacts on safety (for both riders and others), the extent of their environmental benefits, and whether they could help reduce motor traffic. The government will work with operators and local authorities throughout the trial to plan for the wider introduction of the vehicles to the UK.

Only rental e-scooters will be permitted in the trials; the government said that this is in order to avoid a “flood of poor-quality scooters onto the streets”. Personally owned scooters will remain illegal.

“As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain,” said Transport Minister Rachel Maclean.

“E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alterative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.”

The announcement was welcomed by US e-scooter rental firm Lime, which said that it was “looking forward to building healthier, greener and safe cities across the UK”.

The use of e-scooters has been criticised in the UK – and in other parts of the world in which e-scooter rental schemes operate – over safety issues. Common complaints include riding on pavements, dumping rental vehicles on pavements where they become a trip hazard, and endangering people with visual impairments and people who are hard of hearing as they navigate pavements.

Research has also suggested that e-scooters may not be as green as they appear because they are mostly used as an alternative to walking or cycling, rather than as a replacement for car driving.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has recommended additional safety measures, such as compulsory helmet wearing and a lowered speed limit of 12mph.

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