Racing to catch up – E-scooters and the Law in Ireland

At a glance

Currently in Ireland it is not possible to tax or insure e-scooters for use in a public place. Some e-scooters are classed as Mechanically Propelled Vehicles (MPVs) and they require a license, tax and insurance. They cannot be used on footpaths. Other e-scooters are treated the same way as push pedal bikes, and others as mopeds. In this article we look at the various legal and insurance issues which this raises and liability for injury caused by negligence. We highlight proposed new legislation which is being planned by Government and how this will impact the current legal situations.  

In the last 12 months there has been a significant increase in consumer demand in Ireland for e-scooters, for both recreational and commuter purposes. Consumer surveys suggest e-scooters are seen as an environmentally friendly, cost-effective alternative to cars or use of public transport for local travel.

Many of us on our day to day commutes will be much more aware of the presence of these e-scooters on the roads of Irish towns and villages. This follows a similar trend noted in the US and Europe in recent years of increased private ownership of e-scooters along with the roll out in many cities of e-scooters available to rent through mobile apps.


Ready, Steady, No!

Currently under Irish law, the use of electric scooters and like devices is not specifically regulated. Their use is governed by The Road Traffic Act 1961 (the 1961 Act) which defines a Mechanically Propelled Vehicle (MPV) to include ‘a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical’, which the majority of e-scooters fall into. Under the 1961 Act all MVP’s require a license, tax and insurance. They cannot be used on footpaths.

However, where an e-scooter requires initial pedalling before the motor can be operated then it will not be considered an MPV. With so many different e-scooters and like devices on the market it is the legal obligation of the vehicle owner to ensure that their vehicle complies with all of the current regulations applicable to that category of vehicle.

This means that most, if not all, private users of e-scooters in Ireland are currently using them illegally, as it is not possible to tax or insure e-scooters for use in a public place.  While Garda enforcement of this issue is reported as low, with users often being directed to return home, some have had their e-scooters seized and received fines.


‘Powered Personal Transporters’

In an attempt to correct this position the Government have announced plans to introduce new legislation. Under the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 (the 2021 Bill) a new vehicle category, ‘Powered Personal Transporters’, would be created to allow use of e-scooters and similar devices in public without any necessity for driving license, tax or insurance. This would essentially treat e-scooters in a similar manner to pedal bicycles, although more powerful models will be treated as light mopeds.

Under the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill it is planned to differentiate the use of e-scooters depending on the size of their motor. Some more powerful models are proposed to be treated as light mopeds.

Under the Bill it is expected a number of safety measures proposed by e-scooter service operators will be introduced including:-

  • A minimum age for use of 16 years;
  • Compulsory helmets for those aged between 16 and 18;
  • An upper speed limit of 25km/h; and
  • Aban of use on footpaths.

Pedal to the Metal

On foot of the announcement of the new planned legislation, a number of major e-scooter service operators were quick to announce plans to roll out rental services through mobile apps in Ireland. This has resulted in plans for significant job creation by these companies in Ireland and suggestions for possible partnerships with local e-scooter operators and transportation providers.

Should this legislation be passed, a huge increase in the number of e-scooters operating in public places can be expected. With increased use of e-scooters there will be an associated increase in the number of accidents involving them.

Department of Justice figures from late last year revealed an increase in e-scooter related collisions from 3 collisions in 2018 to 37 collisions in 2020. It is likely these increases are a measure of the increasing popularity of e-scooters, rather than any increase in the danger they present in their use.

A study in the US, based on the US National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, found that in 2019, more than 29,600 e-scooter riders were treated in US hospital emergency department, up from about 15,500 the year before. The figure in 2014 was less than 5,000 injuries requiring emergency department treatment. This rise in accidents is likely the result of increased use of e-scooters. The study also suggested 88% of these scooter crashes in 2019 involved alcohol.


Negligence and Injury*

Given the current status of most e-scooter users in Ireland as illegal on the roads, it raises a question around what implication that may have if they are injured in an accident. With the 2021 Bill not expected to be enacted until the end of this year, or even early next year, it is very likely personal injuries claims arising from e-scooter use will occur in the meantime.

Claimants in such accidents may face some uncertainty as to whether they will be afforded the same protections as cyclists who legally use the road. Practitioners will likely keep a close eye on any court interpretations of the status of e-scooter users prior to the introduction of the planned legislation.

It is unlikely that personal injuries cases would fail where injury is caused to an e-scooter user by the negligent driving of a car driver. Indeed, one would expect such road users would be viewed in the eyes of the court in a similar manner to cyclists, with drivers of vehicles expected to keep an eye out for them as vulnerable road users.

In a similar way to cyclists, users of e-scooters would need to travel in a safe manner. Where accidents occur the user of the e-scooter may be liable to be found to be contributory negligent in the occurrence of the accident, for example, exceeding the speed limit or failing to wear a helmet. Under the 2021 Bill it is not expected that helmets will be made mandatory, but like cyclists, they will be encouraged to wear safety equipment.

In terms of injuries or damage caused by e-scooter users to other road users, it seems that in the majority of circumstances there will be no insurance cover and so any claim would have to be taken against the road user themselves. This will remain the case after the proposed legislation is enacted, although some companies operating e-scooter rental schemes have indicated they may provide comprehensive insurance for use of those rented e-scooter devices.


Practical Steps

Should you suffer injury or property damage as a result of the negligent use of an e-scooter you should ask the user for their name and address and you should request details of the vehicle they are using (make, model, engine size etc). In this regard you may wish to take a photo of the e-scooter. Where injuries are suffered medical assistance should be sought.

It may be advisable, particularly if there is contention around who was at fault for the accident, to contact An Garda Síochána. If the Gardai cannot attend at the accident location then you should attend your local Garda Station and report the incident and provide them with details of the other vehicle.

If you are an e-scooter user and you are injured by another vehicle then you should exchange details with the driver and take their insurance details. The incident should be reported to Gardai if possible.


Conclusion

While private ownership of e-scooters and similar devices in Ireland is steadily increasing, it can be expected that once the new legislation proposed by the Government is enacted to legal the use of Powered Personal Transporters in public places, there will be a flood of private owned and rental e-scooters on our roads and footpaths.

For this reason the Government will need to ensure any legislation introduced gives adequate safeguards to users.

HOMS Assist is a full-service law firm, for individuals. This means whatever advice you need or problem you have, we can help. For more information or for a confidential discussion about your claim, contact our team of solicitors on 1800 207 207 or email [email protected] to tell us about your case.

 

Note: A 2020 study from the International Transport Forum found that e-scooter users face the same risk of being killed or injured as cyclists.

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