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