Pedestrians and road users in Croydon and across the capital are “at risk of significant harm” from the illegal use of electric scooters, according to a Member of the London Assembly today.
Unmesh Desai was responding to the release of police figures that show 258 collisions involving e-scooters in London in just the first six months of 2021, compared to only nine during the whole of 2018.
Police recorded 38 e-scooter collisions in 2019, and 266 collisions throughout the whole of 2020.
While there is an on-going trial of hired e-scooters in some London boroughs, the use of privately-owned e-scooters remains illegal on public pavements and streets elsewhere, including Croydon – which a year ago was described in one right-wing newspaper article as “Britain’s e-scooter capital”.
Capable of speeds of up to 15mph, e-scooters are a case of technology being far ahead of legislation, causing controversy over where exactly they’re supposed to go. Pedestrians feel they are too dangerous on the pavement while car drivers see them as a liability on the roads.
Private e-scooters, which can be bought online for less than £350, are not legal for use on the road as they cannot be insured, there is no valid classification on the licence and nor would they pass an MoT test.
Cash-strapped Croydon Council has done little, if anything, over enforcement of the law, while the police say that they have been trying to “engage” e-scooter riders.
But there’s also growing concerns about the quality and reliability of the batteries some scooters and e-bikes are equipped with. Last month, Transport for London banned e-scooters and e-bikes from being taken on to its Tubes, buses and trams and from being carried into its stations because of the fire risk from defective batteries.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police seized 3,637 privately owned e-scooters. Users caught riding private e-scooters can be fined up to £300 and may face penalty points on their driving licence.
In a statement issued by Scotland Yard, the police said, “As with all areas of policing, each offence will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and where appropriate, officers will always seek to engage, explain and encourage anyone found using a private e-scooter on public land to stop and remove it.
“However, if the rider is putting the public in danger, committing other offences, or is a repeat offender, officers will seek to enforce the law – including the possibility of seizure, disposal, and prosecution leading to fines and points on their licence.”
The Met and TfL have also written to e-scooter retailers in London reminding them of existing legislation.
TfL’s 12-month rental e-scooter trial runs until June in the City, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Richmond, Southward, Tower Hamlets, Westminster and Camden. None of Croydon, Sutton or Bromley signed-up to be part of the scheme.
According to official figures, there are 3,585 rental e-scooters on the roads as part of this trial.
TfL says, “These rental devices have a number of safety features including always-on lights, GPS controlled parking and no-go zones - meaning they can only be parked in specified locations and cannot be ridden in certain areas and have a unique identification number on every vehicle.”
In the trial, users must be 18 years old or older and hold a provisional or full driving licence; the vehicles have a lower maximum speed of 12.5mph, and only 8mph in controlled “go-slow” areas; and larger wheels at least 12in in diameter, which makes navigating road surfaces easier.
The police advice is unequivocal. “Any e-scooter outside of this scheme cannot legally be used on any public space or road or footpath, despite being legal to purchase and sell,” they say, basically making Croydon a no-go zone for scooter users.
Police Commander Kyle Gordon said: “It is really unhelpful that retailers, fully aware of the risks they are creating for the public, continue to profit from selling machines illegal for use on public roads without sufficient explanation and guidance.
“Our priority is to keep our roads and public spaces safe, and to engage and educate riders and the wider public on the rules of privately owned e-scooter devices.
“Private devices have, on occasion, proven to be highly dangerous; and we have been called to help many people who have been involved in collisions and ended up seriously hurting themselves or others.”
Will Norman, the Mayor of London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, described what he called “a woeful lack of regulation” over e-scooters.
“We know they’re not going away. That’s why we are running a rental e-scooter trial in London with much safer, legal rental e-scooters,” Norman said.
“However, private e-scooters can be extremely dangerous, and anyone deliberately misusing them will feel the full force of enforcement action. We need everyone – retailers, e-scooter users and the general public – to help us make sure that dangerous, illegal e-scooters are not being ridden around London’s streets.”
Today, Unmesh Desai said, “The use of illegal e-scooters on our roads and pavements is putting Londoners at risk of significant harm- especially the most vulnerable in our communities such as people with limited mobility, visual impairments and hearing loss.”
Despite the sharp rise in collisions involving e-scooters, TfL has reported just 13 incidents involving users of its trial scooters, from more than half-a-million journeys.
Meanwhile, the London Fire Brigade was called to attend more than 50 fires involving e-scooters and e-bikes in 2021, including one incident that showed a Tube carriage filling up with smoke from an e-scooter fire.
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