A great example of the confusion about whether kick scooters are legal or not in the UK can be found in a BBC News article from 2006. It states that “unpowered scooters and skateboards cannot legally be used on pavements, footpaths or cycle tracks as they have no right of way, but the DfT [Department for Transport] admits it is not very practical trying to enforce the law.”
The article continues: “Local bye-laws can be created banning them.”
That doesn’t paint a very clear picture about the status of the push scooter in UK law. What’s more, it isn’t even necessarily very accurate.
Let’s consider that ‘right of way’ element, for instance. This seems clear enough – it means pedestrians have right of way on a pavement. However, it doesn’t necessarily automatically follow from this that kick scooters are illegal on pavements.
English law, after all, is historically based on the principle that anything is legal unless a law specifies otherwise. There’s nothing in the law in England and Wales stipulating that scooters are prohibited from sharing the pavement with pedestrians, although a local bye-law could theoretically specify otherwise.
So, given that explicit laws on scooters in the UK barely seem to exist, what can we go on?
Well, let’s take a look at the law that renders bicycles illegal on pavements in England and Wales – The Highways Act 1835 Section 72. It’s as ludicrously out of date in its wording as you’d expect from an early 19th-century law, stating:
“If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers; or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway; or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon.”
That ‘carriage of any description’ text is the key one. Bicycles were classified as ‘carriages’ in 1888, followed by cars in 1903. The text sounds like scooters could also count as ‘carriages’, but in the absence of any clarification in the law, this is down to our own interpretation.
In reality, though, as long as you are respectful towards pedestrians and are not involved in any accidents with a pedestrian while using your scooter, you shouldn’t have much to worry about as far as the legality of your scooter on the pavement is concerned.
Unfortunately, the laws on electric scooters in the UK make for even more dire reading. Electric powered scooters and self-balancing Segways were made illegal on public pavements in the UK in 2006, when Dft invoked the aforementioned Section 72 of The Highways Act 1835.
Nor can you even use such a self-balancing scooter on the roads in the UK, because it does not comply with EU vehicle certification rules. This means that you can only legally ride an electric scooter in the UK on private land, and even then, only with the landowner’s consent.
This might all seem rather unfair, given that an electric scooter is basically just a kick scooter with a low-power motor, and doesn’t even go much faster.
DfT has said there are no current plans to alter the situation of the e-scooter in UK law. Again, though, as long as you are responsible with the use of your electric scooter and don’t endanger or inconvenience any pedestrians or road users, you probably don’t have to fret much about the possibility of the police pulling you over.
The good news for travellers is that many areas of continental Europe have much more up-to-date laws with regard to scooter use.
Electric scooters are classified as Personal Light Electric Vehicles, or PLEVs, which are permitted to travel as fast as 25 kilometres an hour in a cycle lane in France. In Austria and Switzerland, this also applies to using one on a road. As for pavements, the maximum allowed speed for a PLEV in France and Germany is six kilometres an hour.
If you are an electric scooter enthusiast frustrated by the position of the self-balancing scooter in UK law, you might also want to consider the US state of California for your next holiday. There, you can ride a PLEV in cycle lanes, pavements and roads, as long as you are over 16 and wearing a helmet.
Naturally, the legal situation with regard to how you use your scooter is liable to differ from one country to the next. That’s why we recommend that you keep firmly abreast of what the current law is, wherever you take your pride and joy.