IN Glasgow, a lone figure in black insouciantly rides his e-scooter through the Clyde Tunnel, bringing the traffic behind to a crawl as his machine struggles with the incline.
In Edinburgh, the pavements are the thoroughfares of choice.
Riders approach silently from behind and zoom past startled pedestrians at 20mph.
Those are the cheaper models. The dearer ones go much faster than that. Take the Dualtron Storm electric scooter being sold second-hand on the website Gumtree by ‘David’ from Glasgow. He claims it is capable of 65mph.
Or take the Proton Pro3, one of the biggest sellers at retailer Skootz, which has outlets in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Costing £1,495, it can do 51mph.
Sarah Carter, 80, was injured by an e-scooter in Canterbury in July
A much smaller outlay – £579 – would secure another top seller, the M4 Pro, which can reach 31mph.
It is illegal, of course, for vehicles to travel at those speeds on most urban streets. Indeed, across much of Edinburgh, the speed limit is 20mph.
But the law goes further with e-scooters.
They are illegal to ride in any public place in Scotland at any speed.
Buyers are told at the point of purchase that, if they want to remain inside the law, they must ride their machines only on private land – and then only with the owner’s permission.
Yet the daily evidence that a massive proportion of the e-scooter market is flouting the law is overwhelming.
The latest industry estimates put the UK ownership figures of e-scooters at 1.2million.
Do they all have tracts of private land at their disposal to ride them? Even retailers admit this is beyond fanciful.
‘We’ll say to customers “You have to understand this is the law, so you really need to take that into consideration when you’re buying it”,’ says Mark Bain, who launched Skootz in 2020. ‘And nine out of ten people will still go ahead and buy it.’
Few, he says, are ever troubled by the police.
Little wonder the increasing prevalence of e-scooters on urban streets, pavements and cycle paths is now labelled a ‘wild west situation’.
Indeed, some argue a regulated system that allows limited use of the vehicles in public would be preferable to the status quo where the blanket ban is routinely ignored and seldom enforced.
If the ‘sensible’, helmet-wearing rider travelling at appropriate speeds is as guilty of breaking the law as the e-scooter maniacs, so the argument goes, where is the deterrent for recklessness?
this month, City of Edinburgh Council took tentative steps towards resolving the issue, stating that if e-scooters were to be legalised, it would expect to allow them on cycle paths and ‘shared use paths’, providing they were ridden at appropriate speeds.
Myra Wood, 79, was struck by e-scooter rider Paul Satchell in Bexhill, East Sussex, in December 2020
Yet the proposal is highly controversial, not least because the machines are widely considered dangerous – both for their riders and those around them wherever they are used.
Edinburgh-based Conservative MSP Sue Webber, who regularly encounters e-scooter riders in public places, describes the perfectly legal sale of high-powered versions capable of more than 50mph as ‘outrageous’.
She says: ‘The public will be alarmed that Edinburgh council wants to make e-scooters legal given how many people use them irresponsibly in our towns and cities. My heart is in my mouth when I see people recklessly using them. They are undoubtedly a serious risk to public safety.’
The National Federation of the Blind in the UK, meanwhile, describes them as ‘terrifying’.
Certainly, UK-wide accident figures make sobering reading. There were 1,349 collisions involving e-scooters in 2022 and 1,437 casualties. Twelve of the collisions were fatal, with all but one being the rider.
The remaining victim was pedestrian Linda Davis, 71, from Nottinghamshire who died of a head injury after a boy of 14 careered into her while riding an e-scooter on a pavement.
How long, many wonder, before the first pedestrian in Edinburgh is killed in similar circumstances?
On the roads the greatest danger the riders pose is undoubtedly to themselves. In July, a 15-year-old boy was left in a critical condition after crashing his e-scooter in Monifieth, Angus. A passenger, also 15, suffered minor injuries.
Other riders have been spotted riding along Scottish dual carriageways and even motorways.
A man in a bobble hat was filmed doing 50mph on Dundee’s Kingsway, which has a 40mph limit, while a brazen youth was spotted riding along the hard shoulder of the M8 in Glasgow while chatting on his mobile phone.
Where, many wonder, are Police Scotland in all this? In an increasingly uncomfortable spot, it appears.
For months, the force refused Freedom of Information requests for details on accidents involving e-scooters north of the Border, the numbers charged and the number of machines confiscated.
It claimed the data would be too costly to collate and, in any case, the illegal use of e-scooters was ‘not a huge problem’ in Scotland.
However the force disclosed days ago the number of ‘incidents’ logged with a reference to ‘electronic or motorised scooters’ has increased threefold from 650 in 2021 to 2,259 this year.
Separate figures suggest that police seized only 31 of the vehicles across Scotland last year.
MSP Ms Webber asks why they are not being more pro-active. ‘There’s no point having rules and regulations if they’re not going to be enforced,’ she says.
In fairness to the force, it has repeatedly reminded people e-scooters are illegal to use in public – but attempts to get the message across on social media can backfire as they are berated for doing too little about the law-breakers.
‘Why are the police doing nothing about the kids whizzing about streets on them?’ asked one social media user following a Police Scotland post. ‘Have witnessed on several occasions police driving past them on main roads and in the local park when there are often two kids on one scooter.’
Last year, when the force posted an image of two officers monitoring an Edinburgh cycle path for e-scooter riders, some asked why they were not out catching ‘real’ criminals.
E-scooters are increasingly popular but are also a growing menace
Those in crashes can expect to be charged. A 32-year-old involved in a collision with a bus in Paisley this month was taken to hospital and charged with a series of road traffic offences.
Both youths in the Monifieth crash were reported to the Youth Justice Assessor.
Yet those who remain accident-free, it seems, mostly get away with it. It all feeds in to a picture mired in confusion, uncertainty and second guessing where changes in the law seem probable but no one knows what they will look like – and in the meantime increasing numbers play to their own rules.
The situation is further vexed by the fact rail companies across Britain decided this year to ban e-scooters from trains and platforms due to mounting fears their lithium batteries were a fire- hazard.
Due to the same consideration, police forces routinely destroy the machines they confiscate, unless they need to be stored for evidence purposes.
And yet, in England, some 31 trial e-scooter schemes are under way in towns and cities, including Nottingham – where a City of Edinburgh Council delegation recently made a fact-finding visit before unveiling its e-scooter strategy.
Under the English schemes, which run until May 2024, holders of driving licences can use hired e-scooters limited to 15.5mph.
Like bicycles, they are banned from pavements and can be ridden on cycle paths and roads, but not motorways. Even in the trial areas, all use of privately owned machines in public places is forbidden.
The Transport Bill in the Queen’s Speech last year, however, suggested the Westminster Government was looking favourably on legalising them.
Baroness Vere of Norbiton, then roads minister, pledged to create a ‘regulatory framework for smaller, lighter, zero-emission vehicles, sometimes known as e-scooters’.
‘Their popularity is clear,’ she said, ‘and new rules are needed to improve safety and crack down on illegal use while unlocking innovation.
To that end, it is our intention that the Bill will create a low-speed, zero-emission vehicle category that is independent from the cycle and motor vehicle categories.’
Quite where this leaves Scotland is unclear. There are no trial schemes here, yet there is widespread use of the machines, some of which could scarcely be classed as low-speed. And children way below driving age are riding them.
A Transport Scotland spokesman says decisions around the introduction of e-scooters are ‘broadly a reserved matter for the UK Government’ and timescales for a new regulatory framework which includes them are ‘unclear’.
He adds: ‘Enabling the use of electric scooters through such a regulatory framework would also require amendments to devolved legislation.’ In the meantime the Scottish Government is ‘monitoring developments’.
For retailers like Mr Bain of Skootz, impatience is building. Pointing out that trials have been going on for up to three years, and ‘keep getting extended’, he says: ‘As soon as the legislation is actually written and comes out it will make life easier.’
The blueprint, he says, is already in place across much of Europe where e-scooters are mostly legal. ‘I think we go with what’s already working in Europe, where we look at Spain, Germany, France, Ireland, Poland… they have already got a process in place and I would say just replicate that – have a speed limit and an age limit.’
Mr Bain says that while most of his early customers tended to be youths looking for a new toy, the balance has shifted.
‘What we are seeing now is a lot more commuters buying them, wearing high-vis, wearing helmets, and they’re just getting on with it, sticking to the bike paths and cycle lanes and so on … I think it’s too much for the police to deal with now.’
A rider shocks motorists in Glasgow’s Clyde Tunnel
He says that while he does sell e-scooters that go much faster than the recommended speed limits, so too do Ferrari salespeople.
He adds: ‘The scooters can be programmed so the speed they go at can be restricted… but it’s not very difficult for someone to go on YouTube and understand how to un-restrict scooters.’
Yet even where they are legal, e-scooters remain controversial. In a Paris referendum in April, 90 per cent of respondents voted for a ban on rental e-scooters after three people died and 459 were injured in accidents in 2022.
HE bottom line for many is they are simply inherently dangerous. ‘They invade the sedate environment of the pedestrian like a new species of predatory fish,’ says one critic, Alex Bedford. ‘We have never before witnessed such speed disparity on our pavements. An onslaught of kinetic energy!’
As a former British motorcycle racing champion Mr Bedford, who lives near Glasgow, knows all about speed on two wheels. He says the fundamental danger with e-scooters is their wheels are too small –rendering them unstable.
He says: ‘Cycles and motorcycles have relatively large diameter wheels which generate gyroscopic force. Basically, the wheels resist sudden movement or turning. So a bump or defect in the road won’t cause instability.’
This, coupled with the posture of the e-scooter rider, makes them ‘death traps’, he says.
‘When riding both cycles and motorcycles, the base of the spine is secure, one feels part of the machine. Not so the e-scooter. The rider is perched on the machine with a vertical posture, only their hands and feet in contact with the machine. The expression “a loose cannon” comes to mind.’
On impact in a crash, the bicycle or motorbike’s wheels and forks absorb much of the G-forces. By comparison, he says, the fate awaiting the e-scooter rider is catastrophic.
Mr Bedford says: ‘Those in government ought to consult experts whose profession can give insight into the safety of these machines. Or just ask the average Glaswegian on Buchanan Street whether it’s a good idea that e-scooters share the same environment.
‘Some things in life are incompatible.’
As for Police Scotland, a spokesman said anyone with concerns should ‘contact us so an appropriate policing response can be provided’. He urged potential purchasers to be aware of the law and the implications of using an e-scooter in a public place.’
Yet it seems most are perfectly aware – and ride them anyway.