UK cities have seen a notable increase in people zipping around on the latest retro motorized vehicles. E-scooters (also called micro scooters) are typical examples of trendy 2 wheel electric powered transporters.
Nevertheless, there is no shortage of users and purchasers of electric powered transporters asking the question: 'are electric scooters illegal in the United Kingdom'?
In fact, there is no specific United Kingdom law that applies 'solely' to the use of powered transporters. So, what does that mean? In simple terms, it means the laws and regulations that relate to ALL other motorized vehicles will apply instead.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 sets out the legal definition of a 'motor vehicle'. The Act defines motor vehicles as 'any mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads'.
And why is that important?
There is verifiable case law confirming that electric powered transporters have already fallen within this definition (see further details below).
United Kingdom laws on adult motorized scooters have several objectives. Even so, the primary aim of legislation is to ensure the safety and consistency in the use and manufacture of boosted scooters.
Note: Failing to comply with the UK rules for e-scooters is a criminal offence which can result in an arrest and further prosecution.
You could describe electric powered transporters as a range of lightweight, powerful, personal transport devices. Most are mechanically propelled by a motor. So, many experts see them as being the future of urban mobility.
Typical examples of emerging transporters powered by a battery and an electric motor include:
As you might expect, some of these modern scooters are fast and riders can reach relatively high speeds while riding them. They have become very popular in many major cities (e.g. Paris, San Francisco).
However, riding e-scooters is illegal in the United Kingdom (in the majority of situations). In fact, the UK had its first fatality as a result of an e-scooter road traffic incident in July .
So, why are e-scooters illegal?
When it comes to being street legal, UK law focuses on the physical design of an electric scooter and the motor it uses. As such, they fall under the same rules and regulations that apply to other motor vehicles (e.g. cars and motorbikes).
Therefore, among several other factors, it means you would need a valid MOT, tax, and insurance cover for your electric powered transporter for it to be a bona fide 'road-legal' vehicle.
E-scooter legal information in brief:
Note: Using a powered transporter off road, such as on private land where the general public has no access to it, is not breaking the law providing you have permission to do so from the land owner.
Note: The section on electric bike laws explains in detail how electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPC) conform to their own regulatory framework.
It is not uncommon to see people riding e-scooters in many of the major cities. Despite that, and in most cases, they will be riding them illegally in the United Kingdom. As a general rule, even if you buy a cheap e-scooter through the internet it will be illegal for you to ride it on any public roads in Britain.
The legal requirements for riding an e-scooter legally on public roads are complex. First of all, you would need to register the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Then, you would need to tax it, get it insured, and have it checked for safety (e.g. vehicle approval).
You can buy electric scooters for kids. But, most of the adult versions are 1000w and classed as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV).
This is important because it means the power and maximum speed is too low to be road legal. In theory, you could have it boosted to meet the legal requirements. But, in most cases doing so would be a costly and complicated process.
Important: From the 4th of July 2020, the UK Government changed the electric scooter law to allow users the opportunity to test the benefits while the DfT assesses the impact of rental e-scooter trials on public spaces and the environment.
There are certain areas where a powered transporter can be used legally. For example, you can use them on private land, providing:
Various laws and regulations may restrict the use of motor vehicles in other spaces (including powered transporters). As a rule, the restriction on the use of a powered transporter would depend on where the use occurs.
Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835 makes it an offence to ride on a carriage on any pavement. The rule applies to almost all vehicles, including powered transporters.
Special legal exceptions apply for mobility scooters and wheelchairs.
Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 also forbids the use of powered transporters (mechanically-powered vehicles) on footpaths. A footpath is a public right of way over land which may only be used on foot (as opposed to a bridleway or a carriageway).
Note: The image shows a typical example of the new seated scooter available for hire or for purchase.
Section 21(1) of Road Traffic Act 1988 extends the prohibition on electric powered transporters to include cycle lanes on roads, cycle tracks, or other spaces dedicated to pedal cycle use only. But it excludes EAPCs and mobility scooters from this ban.
Under section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, you must not use powered transporters on bridleways or on any restricted byways.
To use any motorized vehicle lawfully on public roads in the United kingdom, the legal requirements that need to be met include:
Note: In principle, powered transporters that meet these legal requirements may be used on public roads.
Similar restrictions also apply to other spaces which the public have access to. Typical examples include car parks, industrial estates, public squares not restricted to pedestrian use, privately-owned roads, and university campuses.
One of the most recognised electric scooter companies that allows riders to hire its vehicles via a mobile phone app is "Bird". The company has exploited a legal loop-hole in powered transporter law. It means some users can use e-scooters as part of their daily commute to work in parts of the London area. In some areas you can also find race tracks to speed around on an electric powered scooter 'legally'.
In fact, yes you can be prosecuted for using a powered transporter. As a rule, breaches of the law relating to the use of this type of motor vehicle are criminal offences. Thus, the responsibility for enforcing the law and prosecuting the offenders rests with regional police forces (and the CPS where applicable).
As a rule, the penalties given out will depend on the nature of the offence and its seriousness. But, typical sentences will range from financial fines and penalty point endorsements to disqualifications from driving altogether.
Certain types of electric powered transporter offences can lead to imprisonment. They include a breach of the national speeding limits or using the device:
Note: Riding an e-scooter illegally on the road can result in a £300 fixed-penalty notice and six (6) points on your driving licence. This type of penalty generally occurs for not having a driver's licence, road tax, a registration plate, vehicle insurance, or for not wearing a helmet.
Powered transporter manufacturers should be aware that certain designs may satisfy legal requirements for construction. So, you can manufacture e-scooters (and others) providing the design meets them.
As a manufacturer, you would need to submit the vehicle to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency for Motorcycle Single Vehicle Approval (MSVA).
You can register any vehicles that pass and they may then be used on public roads. But, there may be other conditions that apply to the powered transporter (e.g. those of any other vehicle with the same number of wheels).
Under UK law, it is not illegal to sell electric powered transporters. But, the vendors who are responsible for selling them should provide customers with accurate information about the legal restrictions for using the device.
However, sections 87 and 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provide further details as to the legality of such matters. In fact, criminal offences can in many circumstances be committed by the users themselves and by people 'causing or permitting' the use of such vehicles in breach of the statutory requirement.
Note: Companies that lease or hire out e-scooters (and other powered transporters) should keep this in mind. You can read more about consumer protection rights in another section.
At the time of writing, there have been three separate cases whereby the courts had to consider how the application of powered transporter law relates to motor vehicles.
The High Court was asked to consider the situation of Segways in the statutory framework. In this case, the court found the appellant had been properly convicted under the Highway Act 1835.
The conviction of 'riding' on a footway (or 'driving or leading a carriage') on the footway stood. Thus, by operation of statute, the Segway was a carriage (either):
The High Court had to consider whether the use of a 'City Bug' electric scooter meant its user was bound by the compulsory insurance requirements.
In this particular case, the court found that it was. The conviction for driving an electric scooter without insurance stood.
A Go-Ped is a scooter powered by an internal combustion engine. In this particular case, the High Court found it was a motor vehicle in relation to the statutory framework.
Thus, the law required the respondent to have a driving licence and third party insurance when using the Go-Ped on the road.
Note: The GOV.UK website has links to the details of how the courts applied the law in the High Court of Justice Queen's bench division administrative court.
Further legal information is available from the Department for Transport (DfT). You can send an email to [[email protected]] for queries about electric powered transporters.
You can also contact the International Vehicle Standards Team for questions about vehicle construction.
International Vehicle Standards
Department for Transport
Zone 1/34, Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR
Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The information and content provided in this guide is an introductory outline of our understanding of e-scooter laws. Nonetheless, the courts have precedence in the interpretation of the law and its application in individual cases. Always seek independent advice or legal representation in any matters of importance.
Powered Transporter Laws in the United Kingdom