On a wide road dotted with autumn leaves, a picture of a beaming woman rider promoted a £299 e-scooter on Amazon last week, which was described “as your best commuting or outdoor travel companion”.
It is one of several models of popular e-scooters that are marketed in the run-up to Christmas by the online giant and other big retailers, including Halfords, Argos and Currys. There is just one snag: it is illegal to ride privately owned e-scooters on public roads in the UK.
While e-scooters are being used in about 30 trials across England, police warn they will impound privately owned e-scooters on public roads. Riders have been told by police that their confiscated vehicles have been crushed, chopped up by electric saws or placed in long-term storage.
Tom McNeil, West Midlands assistant police and crime commissioner, said: “It’s irresponsible that retailers are selling these e-scooters, which they know cannot be used on public roads. They must know the vast majority of customers don’t have huge amounts of private land that they’re riding e-scooters on.
“Many people are confused about the rules. I’ve been out with police officers and seen people stopped on privately owned e-scooters and they appeared to have no idea they weren’t allowed to be riding them.”
McNeil is calling for a ban on the sale of e-scooters until the government decides on the regulations for their wider use. He has written to Mark Harper, the transport secretary, highlighting the “menace and nuisance” of privately owned e-scooters and the need for effective regulation.
The global e-scooter market has been valued at more than £15bn a year. The fastest e-scooters can travel at more than 50mph, but most models sold in the UK have top speeds of 15mph to 25mph.
While big online retailers provide consumers with written warnings about the illegal use of e-scooters, they are not always prominent. Sometimes the warnings are not even included. The e-scooter being promoted as a “commuter companion” on Amazon last week contained a warning that it should not be used during thunderstorms but failed to point out that its use on a British road would be illegal.
Sarah Gayton of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK said: “It’s time to pull the plug on e-scooters, and the government needs to stop retailers selling them. The public will never be safe while they can be used on the public highway.”
Department for Transport (DfT) officials believe e-scooters could provide a fast and clean way to travel to ease the burden on the transport system. The government announced plans to trial rental e-scooters in March 2020, and there are now about 30 areas in England with e-scooter trials. It was announced earlier this year that trials can be extended until May 2024.
The DfT has said it recognises the popularity of e-scooters, and its proposed transport bill aims to create a new regulatory framework that can be used to legalise their wider use.
But the trials are controversial, with concerns about the risks to users and pedestrians. The most recent figures, published last month, show there were 1,437 casualties in collisions involving e-scooters in the year to June 2022, compared with 1,033 the year before. Twelve people were killed in collisions involving e-scooters, compared with four in the year ending June 2021.
It was reported last week that a woman who injured her leg after hitting a pothole in Barnet, north London, is suing the council for £30,000 for failing to maintain the road. The council says the claimant, Giovanna Drago, 22, should not be entitled to any compensation because she was on an illegal vehicle.
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A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesperson said: “We are concerned that the more illegal e-scooters are used on our roads, the higher likelihood there is of them being involved in collisions. However, when compared with other forms of transport and overall harm on the road, the risk of collision is currently much lower for e-scooters.
“Police officers will continue to take all necessary and proportionate action against those who may be tempted to illegally or dangerously use e-scooters, in line with forces’ overall approach to road safety and harm reduction.”
The NPCC said police encourage retailers to provide “clear and relevant information at the point of sale”.
An Amazon spokesperson said: “We take the safety of our customers extremely seriously and we continually review our controls to ensure appropriate product information is displayed. We have policies in place which make it clear to selling partners not to encourage the potential illegal use of these products by customers.” It added that the e-scooter being advertised last week as a “commuter companion” had been removed from its website.
A Halfords spokesperson said: “UK legislation currently states that privately owned electric scooters should only be used on private land with the owner’s consent. We make this clear at all stages of a transaction online, on our pricing tickets, and in our shops. As a responsible retailer, we strongly advise our customers to follow the law. We believe, however, that the government is right to look into the development of regulations that will safely allow the wider private use of e-scooters, aligned with rules for bikes and e-bikes.”