E-Scooters

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E-Scooters

Published 12 March 2021

The use of electric scooters in Ireland has become markedly more prevalent in recent years.  They are seen as cost effective means of travel within urban areas and in many cases a cheaper form of travel than public transport.  In addition they are an environmentally friendly form of transport that help reduce carbon emission and the costs associated with parking vehicles in towns and cities.  To illustrate their popularity, last October, the retailer Halfords reported a sevenfold increase in the sale of scooters across 24 stores over a two-month period alone.

However given that they can travel up to speeds of 30km/h and weigh up to 20kg, they can also represent a significant danger for traffic and pedestrians and have therefore come under much public criticism.  The Irish Road Safety Authority has previously advised that it is illegal to ride scooters in bike lanes whereas Dublin City Council has also called for an outright ban of electric scooters on public roads and bike lanes. 

As it currently stands the legal position in relation to their use on footpaths in particular has remained unclear for some time and it has been accepted by the Government that new legislation in this area is needed.

The Current Law

In Ireland the use of electric scooters is governed by The Road Traffic Act 1961 (the “Act”) which defines a Mechanically Propelled Vehicle (MPV) to include “a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical”. It is worth noting the following:

  • Further to guidance from An Garda Síochána, it has been clarified that a scooter will only be classed as an MPV if it can be manoeuvred from a stationary position by a motor alone.
  • Section 22 of the Act provides that all MPVs are subject to the need for licence, tax , insurance and a helmet when in use.
  • All MPVs (apart from motorised wheelchairs) are currently not permitted in bike lanes or on footpaths and must be used on the road.

The current law therefore creates an anomaly whereby if an electric scooter requires initial manual propulsion (for example via pedalling) before the motor is operated, it will not be considered a MPV and therefore not be covered by the Act.  In this scenario regulation is sorely lacking on when and where such scooters can or should be used.  This has created difficulties regarding enforcement in respect of certain models of e-scooter and it has been the case that Gardaí regularly turn a blind eye to people using the devices round towns and cities.

New Legislation

Recognising the need to legislate properly on this issue, the Government has recently published the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) Bill 2021 (the “Bill”).  This Bill is now set to be debated in Dail Éireann over the coming months before it becomes law.

The Bill covers electric scooters, electric bikes and all those other small vehicles.  Here are some of the most notable provisions it contains so far as relates to electric scooters: 

Definition

Pursuant to the Bill, an electric scooter is said to be a Personal Light Electric Vehicle (PLEV) and is defined as a “bicycle” that:

  • Is propelled electrically by means of an electric motor,
  • Is not fitted with pedals that are capable of manual propulsion,
  • Has a means of directional control through the use of handlebars which are mechanically linked to the steered wheel,
  • Has a means of controlling the speed through hand controls; and
  • Has a maximum design speed of no less than 6 kilometres per hour.

Insurance and Tax

  • There is no requirement for electric scooters to have compulsory insurance under the draft legislation.  In addition it is proposed that they will not be subject to taxation.  The intention is to presumably to encourage their use generally with a number of companies already having expressed an interest in offering e-scooter rental services in Ireland once the law is clarified.

Maximum Speed

  • The Bill suggests that Ireland should a adopt a 25 km/ph limit for electric scooters and all other PLEVs. This could be problematic for vehicles on the market that have the ability to exceed this level.
  • The proposed Law also indicates that scooters should have a device specifically limiting the speed of the scooter.
  • It is intended that a person will be deemed to have committed an offence if he or she removes or tampers with or attempts to remove or tamper with a speed limitation device that is fitted on a PLEV, or causes another person to remove or tamper with or attempt to remove or tamper with such a device.

Age Limit

  • The Bill provides that to ride an electric scooter in a public place, you must be over the age of 16.

Passengers

  • The Bill provides that electric scooters must carry no more than one person. As it stands there is no indication in the draft legislation of any sanction if this is not the case.

Motor

  • The Bill states that an electric scooter should only have one electric motor of no more than 250 watts and no additional mechanical motor.
  • The proposed Bill also states that scooters should be fitted with a throttle that, when released, power is set to zero.
  • In circumstances where there are a significant number of scooters on the market with larger engines, this could again prove to be an issue.

Mobile Phones

  • Under the draft Bill, a person commits an offence if he or she drives a PLEV in a public place while holding a mobile phone.

Summary

Electric scooters will become more popular in the years ahead and new legislation that provides clarity on legality of their use is welcome.  The Bill, once passed, will bring Ireland in line with other EU counties who have led the way in e-scooters, and will avoid the need to introduce tax, insurance or a licensing system for the vehicles as defined in the Bill.

It is however notable that the Bill does not address any appropriate safety measures for the use of e-scooters such as the use of helmets and travel on footpaths.  It is hoped that this will be rectified in the course of debate and any subsequent draft.

Once the legislation is enacted it is also anticipated that insurers will have to consider the implications for comprehensive insurance products provided by companies operating rental schemes for electric scooters and e-bikes.

The draft Bill is in its infancy and it remains to be seen what final form it will take. The progress of the bill can be tracked here as it makes its way through the Oireachtas.

Authors

David Kennedy

David Kennedy

Dublin

+353 (0) 1 231 9630

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