E-scooters: Deaths and Serious Injuries

– in Westminster Hall am 4:35 pm ar 22 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 4:35, 22 Mai 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-scooter deaths and serious injuries.

What a pleasure it is to make possibly my last speech in Parliament under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. This may well be quite a historic occasion for me if the rumours flying around about the statement at 5 o’clock today come true.

This is a very important issue that is close to my heart. Before I was an MP, I was involved in a horrible collision in a car. When coming back from my daughter’s christening to my job, teaching at Swansea University, someone drove into us head on, on the wrong side of the road. My family and I only survived because of the seatbelts. When I got into the House, that gave me the passion to take an interest in transport and road safety, which I have continued to this very day. I am president and have been chair of PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which I helped to launch—and I still chair the Independent Council for Road Safety International. I have kept that theme throughout my entire political career; it is an interest that I have never given up on.

You will not remember, Mr Dowd, because you are too young, but we managed to get the law on seatbelts through the House on the night before the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. We managed to keep our troops here, but a lot of people went home for a long weekend. That was the 14th attempt—quite a victory. That has saved a lot of lives over the years.

I have continued to have my interest. The reason I tabled today’s debate is that certain things happen in the transport world that suddenly transform what we have been used to—that absolutely revolutionise any concept we had beforehand—and e-scooters are that change. I have never seen anything that has so radically changed the whole landscape of safety on our roads. It is certainly true that many people find e-scooters a convenient, sustainable, attractive and low-cost form of travel.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Somerton and Frome

While I was lead member for environment and climate change at South Somerset District Council, we introduced one of the e-scooter trials, which provided rural communities with a rare opportunity to engage in them, given that most were delivered in more urban settings. The trials were a huge success, with only eight recorded accidents. Does the hon. Member agree that legal e-scooter usage can play a key role in allowing rural communities to reduce their car usage for short, about-town journeys?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I totally agree. It can be a vital means of transport for business or leisure, and where properly regulated, it is to be welcomed, but when it is totally unregulated, it breaks all the conventions. I think that in total there have been 22 rental scooter schemes like the one the hon. Lady mentioned, which have been relatively well-ordered and welcome. On the other hand, we know that rental schemes account for only about 20,000 scooters in the UK, when it is estimated that there are now between 750,000 and 1 million e-scooters being ridden on the roads illegally. Not only that, but people are being killed and seriously injured on them: there have been 37 deaths since 2019, and I know from talking to regional elected Mayors that there are signs that that figure is a great underestimate.

My staff and I were checking how to buy an e-scooter only today. They are freely available for any age; they are available to buy for children. They can be bought at Toys “R” Us in pink. They usually travel up to 15 mph, although some are advertised as up to 25 mph. There are no regulations about what sort of protective clothing or crash helmets a rider should wear. There is no regulation on insurance, so if someone is involved in an accident with an e-scooter and the rider is uninsured, there are real repercussions not only for safety but for any possibility of compensation for an accident that is no fault of their own.

One lovely advert from Toys “R” Us tells us that we can buy an e-scooter for as little as £109 with next-day delivery, but there is no indication that when we buy them, there are a set of rules or that we should get training or anything like that. We can just buy them and then, presumably, just get on the road and drive them. That is against the law. They are freely available to people of any age, there are no regulations provided and, as I said, there is a very big difference in the insurance situation between private and rental.

The speed limits are quite astonishing. The established limit is regarded in many areas as 15.5 mph, but they are available to buy going up to 25 mph. Police have found cases of people fiddling around with the mechanism so they can go even faster, which apparently is quite easy to do. We all know that at that speed, people could be killed, including children. Helmets are not mandatory, so serious head injuries are prevalent. I said to a friend one day, “What does it mean to have a ‘serious’ accident?” He said to me, “‘Serious’ means you never walk again without pain.” That is a serious disability for the rest of your life. Head injuries have very worrying and serious effects on the individual and their family.

Naively, being something of an expert in this area, I assumed that laws for other vehicles would cover passengers for e-bikes. They do not. There is no consequence for carrying a passenger. I find it quite frightening when I see people go past me on the road at high speed with a small child standing on the running board. It is usually the father, but sometimes it is the mother or another relative. Imagine the horror of an accident in which you crushed your child to death on an e-scooter.

This is so serious because it is only just beginning. It has only just become a fashion, and it is going right across countries and continents. Some countries have been more adept at meeting the safety, security and welfare challenges. E-scooters are particularly dangerous to children—as I say, it is mainly children who are killed and seriously injured—but there are very serious issues for people who are partially sighted and people with buggies, and let us not underestimate the impact on the NHS. There is more evidence of accidents being reported that, when looked at even superficially, are obviously caused by an e-scooter collision. That has a huge impact on waiting lists, emergency care and all the rest of it.

What are we going to do? We must increase awareness of the current regulations. We need an appropriate framework in legislation. We have to ensure that the police have the capacity to act when they see these illegal riders. I know they are under great pressure and lack resources, but it is absolutely vital that they do that. I have said to so many people in my constituency, “Do you realise they’re illegal? You can’t be riding them on the road unless you are on a leasing agreement.” They look bewildered and say, “Well, we’ve just bought it.” A grandmother said to me, “Oh, I bought one for the kid’s birthday”—a little child, straight on to a highly powered vehicle on the road.

I am worried about the broader context, too, because across the piece, in our country and most of western Europe, Australia and the United States, casualty rates have come down substantially over many years. Seatbelt regulations and other regulations have led to such an improvement that fewer people have been killed and seriously injured on the roads. This is a big change, but that happy time seems to be going.

It is not just e-scooters. A report this week said that a growing number of young people do not bother to get insured because it is expensive. The insurance situation, which could work when only a few people did not have insurance, is no longer fit for purpose. Everywhere we look, we see more careless motorists—people who might be 55 or 65 but drive like they are boy racers—and bad behaviour on the roads. I have been a campaigner on this issue for a long time, but standards and conduct on the road are deteriorating. Added to that is the revolutionary change of so many people riding e-scooters. The figure that everyone gives me, which seems pretty accurate, is 1 million, and it will be 2 million next year. If that is the case, we are facing an epidemic of accidents and injuries that will have an impact on the NHS. We obviously need speed limits, and e-scooters must be regulated, with people given the appropriate punishment.

Even the knowledge is a problem. I have a constituent who came down to London for a week and brought an e-scooter all the way from Yorkshire. He got to Waterloo station, came out and got on his e-scooter. Halfway across Waterloo bridge, there was a check by the police. He was astonished. They said, “Is this yours?” and he said yes. They confiscated it, and it cost him £200 a night while it was in storage. He also got six points on his licence. They said, “Are you insured, sir?” He said no. He lost all his car insurance by driving uninsured. Not many people know about that, and we have to ensure that people know what the law is, that the law is enforced and that we stop this scourge before it becomes a national pandemic.

We know, as public representatives, that it is our responsibility to be far-sighted. This is one of the greatest threats to children, young people and older people. I see there was a 73-year-old killed last year on an e-scooter. PACTS and all of us in the campaigning area—wonderful hard-working people—are basing all our recommendations to Government on good evidence and what works in other countries. I say to the Minister and all my colleagues: wake up, because the evidence is there. This will kill many people and many children, and we must act quickly.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South 4:51, 22 Mai 2024

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman on securing today’s important debate, and I commend his lifelong campaigning in this place on road safety. If this is his last speech, it is a worthwhile one, and I place on the record my thanks to him for all his work.

Since being elected as an MP, I have been dedicated to making our roads safer in Bradford South and across the UK. That has led me to lead and support a number of campaigns that tackle dangerous driving and the use of illegal vehicles on our roads. I gave my name to the Road Safety (Cycle Helmets) Bill tabled by Mark Pawsey and put forward my Bill to regulate the use of off-road vehicles and quad bikes on public highways. My Quad Bikes Bill called for the registration of off-road vehicles, empowering police to remove nuisance off-road quads from our streets permanently.

I also supported amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill just last week that made important changes to the Road Traffic Act 1988. In particular, the amendments will create a specific offence of causing death or serious injury by dangerous, careful or inconsiderate cycling. The Act defines a cycle as including the pedal cycle, an electrically assisted pedal cycle and, importantly, an electric scooter. The amendments will be an important step forward in protecting people from e-scooter misuse and delivering justice, to a degree, for victims.

I would like to highlight your excellent work, Mr Dowd. You have worked tirelessly to make our roads safer and deliver justice for victims. The recent amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill in your name, to which I have given my wholehearted support, would ensure that perpetrators can be held properly accountable under the law following a road collision. Mr Dowd, your dedication and commitment to this issue is something that I and all Members across the House look upon with great support, respect and admiration.

E-scooters remain dangerously unregulated. As things stand, those available for public hire are available under the Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020, which established e-scooter trials in major cities in 2020. We were told by the Transport Secretary in 2022 that the Government planned to introduce legislation to allow the regulation of e-scooters in the last parliamentary Session. That clearly has not happened. The Department for Transport—surprise, surprise—has now announced that it will extend city centre trials of e-scooters until May 2026. That dither and delay is simply not acceptable. The Government cannot stand by while our streets become more and more dangerous. In 2022, there were nearly 1,500 casualties in collisions involving e-scooters, including, tragically, 12 deaths. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, I am sure that those deaths and casualties are under-reported.

Some private e-scooters are known to reach speeds of up to 48 mph, although I have just googled and found one available to buy on the internet that can reach a speed of, shockingly, 80 mph. That poses a great danger to other road users and to pedestrians. More than half of all casualties are outside the legal trial areas, so the legislation is clearly inadequate. Use of private e-scooters is illegal on public highways, but an estimated 750,000 privately owned e-scooters are in use in the UK and are often used on public highways and our paths. Private e-scooters are unregulated, so they do not pass tests, standards setting or type approval. The law must therefore urgently be updated to reflect the reality of our society. We need enforceable e-scooter regulations and not an indefinite trial period.

Previously, I have raised in this place the case of one of my constituents who was taken to the accident and emergency hospital in Bradford with a fractured knee after being mowed down at high speed on a path by a reckless e-scooter driver. That is but one example of a much wider problem. The Government must get to grips with the reality of the situation and act.

In 2022, a Transport Minister said:

“Safety is…at the heart of our plans to create a regulatory framework for…e-scooters.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 May 2022;
Vol. 822, c. 30.]

Having all but abandoned those plans for a new regulatory framework, the Government are failing in their duty to protect all road users and pedestrians who remain at risk. Those vehicles are not harmless toys; they are capable of reaching high speeds and can be dangerous when not properly driven and not properly regulated. Now is the time for new measures to be introduced to protect road users from dangerous and antisocial use of e-scooters on our streets and paths.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 4:56, 22 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd.

I congratulate Mr Sheerman—I am not sure whether it is hon. or right hon., but after 45 years it probably should be right hon. I think in the next few minutes we will all know what will happen to that 45 years, although perhaps I will create some headlines rather than the Prime Minister. If that is to be the case, however, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for his 45 years of service in the House and to the people of Huddersfield. This is an apt issue for him to go out on, given his work on similar issues for decades, as he outlined in his speech. He mentioned the serious car accident that he and his family were in, which led to his work. I thank him for his work on those issues.

The main point, and certainly the first point, that the hon. Gentleman made was that the sector is totally unregulated. That is the main point in the contributions made thus far. There are various numbers about, but I think we can probably come to a consensus on 750,000 to 1 million—perhaps just over 1 million—e-scooters in use in the UK. I thought he used a good device when he brought up the Toys “R” Us advert—obviously other retailers are available, and we can get these things from any number of them—to show how freely available e-scooters are, usually without any real warning about their potential illegality, any mention of training, and so on.

This is a real issue, and the Government have to take the blame, because ultimately they promised regulation. In fact, Judith Cummins quoted a Transport Minister when she said that safety was “at the heart of” their plans to regulate e-scooters. Since then, clearly nothing has happened. Another good point—I do not know how widespread this is, but I have certainly heard about it—was about those who tamper with their e-scooters to go faster. Some of them can already go pretty fast—too fast, one could say.

The hon. Member for Bradford South rightly referred to the amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that the perpetrators of dangerous riding resulting in deaths and so on would be punished fully. She also read through some of the stats used by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, but said that it is possible that those stats under-report casualties and deaths. That is something we have to bear in mind as we look at the issue.

At the end of the day, the Government have failed to regulate e-scooters for a couple of years now. I am the SNP transport spokesperson and sit on the Transport Committee, and we have looked at the issue. We have been promised regulation, and it has never happened. It looks like it will certainly not happen this side of an election—certainly if an election is being called as I speak. In the Queen’s Speech in 2022, the Government said that they would create a new category of low-speed, zero emission vehicle in the transport Bill. The trouble is that we never got a transport Bill, which would have allowed for the regulation of e-scooters.

In July of the following year, the Government said that they intended to introduce legislation on micromobility vehicles, which would encompass e-scooters, when parliamentary time allowed. Those of us who have been around Parliament in the last few months—not even just the last few weeks—have seen that it has been rather a zombie Parliament, with a huge amount of time available for the Government to bring forward legislation. With the time available to us, we might even have been able to bring forward rail reform, but nothing was brought forward.

Clearly the Government have now left it too late. We do not know whether e-scooter regulation will be an immediate priority for an incoming Government of whatever hue—however likely the polls seem to be one way—but it has to come as quickly as possible. The point remains: there are just over 1 million e-scooters in use, so we need that regulation and we need it now.

This is not just about reflecting the reality of the numbers; it is about trying to ensure that the use of e-scooters is safe for riders, pedestrians and other road users. DFT numbers show that more than half of e-scooter collision casualties involve illegally ridden e-scooters—those outwith the pilot areas. A French study found that the fatality rate in collisions involving e-scooters was 9.2%, compared with 10% for bicycles, which is quite high—an amendment was tabled on that as well. The rate for motorcycles was 5.2%. The fact that e-scooters have a fatality rate nearly double that of motorcycles is telling.

A study by Queen Margaret University found that e-scooter riders were 13% more likely than cyclists to require admission to a critical care unit following an accident, which would stand to reason given the previous statistic, and that almost twice the number of e-scooter riders admitted had severe head injuries—probably because the vast majority do not wear helmets. Almost all deaths involving an e-scooter are those of the riders. Of the 12 killed in collisions involving e-scooters in 2022, 11 were the riders. Of the seven killed last year, all seven were the riders. According to UK Government figures, in the year ending June last year, there were 1,269 collisions, compared with 1,462 the year prior.

In terms of the Scottish situation, legalising e-scooters is clearly not a priority at this point. We need regulation before we can legalise—that seems obvious—but legislation is not an immediate priority. When the initial trial scheme was announced, Transport Scotland said that it had been given no prior notice, and Scottish legislation enabling such a trial in Scotland had not been factored in, so there are currently no trials in Scotland and all e-scooter use in public space in Scotland is illegal. There were no recorded e-scooter deaths in Scotland in the three years to May 2023, and there were nine serious casualties. E-scooters on trains have also been banned by ScotRail and other train operators, following several battery fires in London.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Fiona Hyslop, who gave evidence on rail to the Transport Committee this morning, has said that “there’s an inevitability” that electric scooters will be legalised in Scotland, but that public opinion is “quite polarised” and that there are “genuine safety issues”, as I think everyone who has spoken today well knows. She continued:

“Electric scooters are a challenge for everybody. I’ve seen the statistics on injuries for electric scooter users and that's problematic…When you’re looking at a shared space”— as we are in Scotland, with the massively increased spending on active travel areas north of the border compared with down here—

“we want to encourage people to do more walking and cycling, and where that’s compromised by an electric scooter—that’s a danger. It’s not a current priority for us;
and anything we did would be in consideration to the timing of what we do with more bus lanes and active travel lanes. They would all have to be managed at the same time to have sensible use of electric scooters.”

That was the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in Scotland.

The bottom line, and consensus in this room today, is that the Government—whether this one or the incoming one, following the election being called as we speak—have to get on with this and make it a priority. Clearly, it has been nowhere near high enough on the Government’s priority list up to this point, given that they missed two deadlines that they set themselves. We need that regulation, and we need it now.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:06, 22 Mai 2024

It is an honour to respond to this debate on behalf of the official Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman for securing this afternoon’s important debate. He is a dedicated advocate for road and pedestrian safety. On behalf of the Front-Bench team, I would like to thank him for his tireless work and leadership as president of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety. If this was indeed his last speech in this place—his swansong after 45 years—let me say that I am proud to have served with him and to have been here for his final contribution.

I also thank all hon. Members for their contributions, not least my hon. Friend Judith Cummins, whose concern about the use of quad bikes is one that I share. I echo the praise for your work to improve road safety and get justice for victims, Mr Dowd. I also share the concerns raised about the potential under-reporting of accidents involving e-scooters. To respond to Gavin Newlands, we have all been waiting for this long-awaited comprehensive transport Bill that has never materialised.

As Labour’s shadow Minister for local transport, I have met dozens of stakeholders to discuss the issue of e-scooter safety and micromobility more widely. Virtually all those stakeholders, who have all raised different challenges in the micromobility sector, tell me of the desperate need for clarity, certainty and a clear indication of the way forward from the Government. Ambiguity and confusion over the current and future legal status of e-scooters, both rental and privately owned, are an enormous source of frustration. From disability campaigners, local councils, digital mobility platforms, and scooter rental firms themselves, I hear the same thing time and again. We desperately need the Government to end this damaging uncertainty.

Labour supports the principle of greater mobility choice and the importance of embracing new technologies as they emerge. The ability to hire a small, lightweight, easy-to-use and zero emissions scooter on the street to complete a journey would have felt far-fetched in the UK even 10 years ago, but they have now become a regular feature of many towns and cities. The rental e-scooter sector would certainly not have emerged were it not for the advent of the modern smartphone, which has enabled new modes of sustainable transport that take cars off the road and encourage the use of active travel infrastructure.

The advent of all these is welcome, but it is plain as day that the sector desperately needs the Government to show some leadership, to stop those positives being outnumbered and outbalanced. Since e-scooters first hit Britain’s streets, and with the infamous introduction of the first e-scooter trial zones in 2020, what has emerged is a confused patchwork of inconsistent standards and contradictory positions from the Government.

The Government’s first set of trial zones were due to expire at the end of November 2021. The Government assured us that the trial would last 12 months and would be closely monitored, so that the Government could assess the benefits and impacts. The trial period was extended to March 2022, because they needed more time to gather evidence. That was then extended once again to November 2022 because the Government failed to properly issue safety guidance the first time. The trials were extended a third time to the end of May 2024 because the Government said they needed “more time to reflect”.

Most recently, the Government extended for a fourth time to May 2026. Across the sector and for the multitude of organisations campaigning on the issue, patience has not just run thin; it has completely run out. What was clearly intended to be a temporary study period has been extended and extended so many times that it has become an utter farce. After four years of constant extensions—six, if the trials run their course—we still have no clarity on what the Government intend to do next, despite repeated promises that e-scooter regulation would be included in a transport Bill that never materialised. The Government must not underestimate the impact of such indecision.

Even rental e-scooter operators tell me that the lack of certainty from the Government is undermining their ability to invest in the UK for the long term. The Government are therefore holding back potentially tens of millions of pounds of investment into our economy and the micromobility trade because they cannot make up their mind. The Government have provided guidance on e-scooter trial safety, but that is a far cry from the strong action that the sector and campaigners desperately need. While the Government dither, the reality on the ground is stark.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield was completely right to draw attention to the deeply worrying levels of serious injuries and fatalities that have been reported since e-scooters first emerged. He was also right that the Government’s refusal to take the steps that they promised to regulate on safety has led to the chaos, and he was right to highlight the potential under-reporting of casualties, as shown in the research by PACTS.

I am extremely keen to hear the Minister’s response to PACTS’ recommendation that the DFT must urgently improve data collection to address the issue. Without firm data collection on the impact of safety, how can the Government honestly believe that they will be able to enact regulations—if they ever do—that put pedestrian and rider safety first?

Many colleagues will be aware of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I had the privilege of visiting its offices and meeting its dogs earlier this week. They truly do incredible work, but what was clear from watching them in action was the scale of the impact that unregulated e-scooters are having on people with sight loss. According to research by Guide Dogs, 12% of people with sight loss reported that their guide dog had been disturbed and another 12% said that their mobility aid or cane had been hit by an e-scooter. In fact, half of people with sight loss who encountered an e-scooter reported changing their behaviour as a result. Some even said that they have had to avoid parts of towns and cities altogether.

Another huge impact on people with sight loss is the blight of e-scooters carelessly discarded on the pavement, which causes havoc for people with sight loss. It confuses their guide dogs or makes navigating with a cane incredibly challenging and stressful. As far as I can tell, e-scooters strewn across the pavement absolutely constitutes an obstruction—a criminal offence. Under a properly regulated system, with more stringent and enforced requirements on returning e-scooters to docks, those obstructions might be less of an issue. This is an immensely important problem, so I urge the Minister to assure those with sight loss that he is actually listening. Will he clarify in his response whether he intends to take action?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I mentioned PACTS. We have always believed in evidence-based policy and what works in other countries. Is it not time that the Government and all of us woke up to what is good practice across Scandinavia and other leading nations that have tackled the issue before us?

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I think it is really important that we always consider evidence from all over the place to make sure that we have the legislation and guidance that befits our situation.

Before I finish, I want to touch on privately owned e-scooters, as the majority of e-scooters that we see used day to day are not part of the rental schemes, but are among the estimated 1 million privately owned e-scooters used in the UK, as my hon. Friend said. Indeed, over half of e-scooter casualties are outside trial areas. There are 1 million privately owned e-scooters, despite their being completely illegal to operate on public highways and despite the Government promising to crack down on them in 2022. Their widespread use is entirely because of the confusion the Government have caused about their legal status.

A huge issue that I have heard about from stakeholders, particularly the fantastic team at Electrical Safety First, is the deadly risk of chemical fires when people put their private e-scooters on charge at home. In 2023, there was an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days in London, a trend that is reflected across the UK. Often, those are caused by inexpensive e-scooters bought online, often imported from abroad, which completely fail to meet UK plug safety standards. These are not just regular fires; they involve what is known as thermal runaway, which causes 600-degree fires and releases toxic gases such as hydrogen fluoride, which strips the lining from the lungs. With proper regulation from the Government, those incidents would be completely preventable, so I urge the Minister to clarify what he is doing to tackle that. Does he intend to protect UK consumers from products that do not meet our safety standards?

Labour knows that there are enormous social, economic and environmental benefits from a thriving e-scooter industry but, from consumer safety in the home to insufficiently regulated rental schemes, it is clear that the Government’s current wild west approach to e-scooters is immensely dangerous. With the right policies, e-scooters can play an integral role as a last-mile solution in a joined-up urban transport system, and I encourage people to take more sustainable journeys. However, the Government’s current approach is letting down pedestrians, whether they are disabled or non-disabled. It is putting homeowners at risk from faulty products and is frustrating the efforts of e-scooter hire companies that want to play their part as responsible transport services. I implore the Government to regulate these vehicles urgently.

We have had five Prime Ministers, seven Chancellors, seven Transport Secretaries and 11 failed plans for growth. People across the country have had enough of Conservative chaos and decline. The nation is desperate to turn the page and move on. People have had enough of 14 years of decline that has cost them, their families and their communities. In transport, the Tories have failed to deliver a comprehensive transport Bill, they have failed to act on e-scooters, they have failed to act on taxi safety standards, they have presided over a shocking decline in our bus services, and our railways are broken. Only Labour can bring the country together and deliver, from infrastructure to our public services.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:17, 22 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I do not think it will be my last debate, because I have a speech to make tomorrow, but we are all awaiting an announcement. I am glad that it is delayed, because I know we have the nation’s undivided attention here.

I congratulate Mr Sheerman on bringing this important debate to Parliament, on his incredibly impassioned speech— whether or not it was his last—and on his campaigning on road safety over many years. I know that as president of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety he has done a lot of work advocating for reform. I have met representatives of the council and gone through their proposals.

I want to say from the outset that e-scooters are revolutionary—there is no doubt about it. Many people like them, as we heard from Sarah Dyke, and I myself have ridden them. On the one hand, it is important to get the regulation right, and safety must be at the heart of that; there is absolutely no doubt about that, and I think there is full agreement here. On the other hand, we do not want to legislate in a way that means we get it completely wrong and end up making things worse.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by Judith Cummins that these are not harmless toys. They are serious pieces of equipment and it is important we have the right standards around them.

I have a prepared speech, but let me go through the various points raised and the comments on them. First, Gavin Newlands mentioned the statistics on deaths. In 2022, there were 12 deaths from e-scooters; 11 were the riders themselves, and two of those were within the trial. So far, four people in total have been killed on the trial scooters. Clearly, with the non-trial scooters there is a far higher incidence of deaths.

The latest figures that I have seen on accidents are from 2022. There were a total of 1,492 accidents, of which 12 resulted in death and 440 were serious accidents.[Official Report, 23 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 14WC.] (Correction) Each of those deaths is absolutely tragic, and serious accidents can be life-changing, so it is important to make sure we get the legislation right. Pretty much every speaker has said that we need to legislate, and I agree. Unfortunately we do not have parliamentary time, particularly if the speculation is right, but the Government have said that we need to legislate. We have been trying to make sure we have the right legislation, because it really is not clear exactly what the right legislation is.

One Member said that we should learn lessons from other countries. We have been looking at what other countries have done. Many have legislated, but they have all done very different things with different rules. Do they require helmets or not? Do they require insurance or not? Should an ID licence plate be required or not? Should people require a licence to be able to ride e-scooters? Should they be allowed on pavements? I think the answer to that one is an absolutely clear no. What should the minimum age be? Should there be a minimum age? Six countries in Europe that we looked at have no minimum age. In various countries, the minimum age is set at 10, 12, 14 or 16. We wanted to use the trials to collect evidence and make sure that we understand how e-scooters are being used, how people are riding them, what the patterns of behaviour are, what works and what does not work. That is why we have been collecting data from the various trials: so that we can learn how they are used in the UK, but also learn lessons from other countries.

It is important that we take the public with us on this journey. This is a new technology, and people need to know that they are being kept safe despite the pace and scale of these changes. We need only look across the channel to see the impacts if we get this wrong and the potential benefits are outweighed by the very real and understandable concerns. I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield knows what happened in Paris: rental e-scooters were banned following the so-called blitzscaling, where streets were overwhelmed by these new-fangled forms of transport and the public became very strongly opposed to them. Other countries such as Lithuania and Belgium have gradually introduced tighter restrictions, having started out with a more deregulated regime.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I am listening with great interest. The Minister is obviously very knowledgeable about this area, but I beg him to rapidly assess the best course of action. Beside me I have my hon. Friend Simon Lightwood, who is a great friend—I recently campaigned in his by-election—and I will be on him as well.

The worst thing that can happen to you as a human being is to get a knock on the door with the news that your mum, your dad, your daughter or your son has been killed in a road accident. It is all avoidable—I am sure the Minister agrees. This should give us the passion to make sure that, even if we have to feed it all into AI, we come up with something quick. Let’s do it!

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Clearly I agree. All road deaths are absolutely tragic, but that is why it is so important that we get it right. I will come to some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but these scooters are completely illegal at the moment. Anything we do to regulate them or legislate on them would be legalising something that is currently illegal; presumably that would make them more widely used. That is why it is important that we learn about their safety features, the way they are used, what the age limit should be and whether we should legally require helmets, licences or whatever else. Other countries, as I say, started out with more liberal regimes. Lithuania and Belgium tightened them. I think it would damage public confidence if we started out with a regime that was unregulated, and then ended up having to ratchet it up because safety had not been protected. That is why we really need to get it absolutely right.

In our first evaluation, the trial data showed that the accident rate is higher than bicycles, but we do not know whether that is just because this is a new technology that people are getting used to. Some 72% of e-scooter accidents happen during someone’s first five rides. That suggests a learning curve: once people have used them for a while, they are less likely to have an accident. One point of reassurance is that 82% of accidents did not involve other vehicles or other pedestrians: it was simply the riders hitting something themselves, although obviously that could also be serious.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned the research that he has done. I commend him on his research into Toys “R” Us; I am rather alarmed by what he said, and will follow it up with officials. All retailers have to meet the product safety standards, and everything that is sold has to meet the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. All retailers are required to tell people buying e-scooters that they cannot use them on public land, roads or pavements. We do monitor that: last year the market surveillance unit took up 24 different online retailers that it found not to be complying with that law. Some of them had to go through the Advertising Standards Authority, but all those that we found not to be complying with the law are now doing so. The year before, there was one that did not comply with the law, even when we told it that it needed to; that case is now in the courts. We have taken legal action against those retailers that are not abiding by the law, but I will ask my officials to look at the case of Toys “R” Us, which the hon. Member mentioned. That absolutely should not be happening.

The hon. Member mentioned that the police should be enforcing the law. E-scooters are illegal at the moment —the private ones, not the trial ones, obviously. It is up to the police to decide what to enforce and what not to enforce. In my constituency, I have tried to encourage the police to enforce parking regulations; I am in one of the few areas of the country where there is not civil enforcement. The police quite rightly make the point that it is up to them to decide what their operational priorities are, but I urge them to enforce this. I get frustrated when I see people on private e-scooters riding around. It is clearly illegal and I point that out to them, but I think there probably does need to be more enforcement. That is the case whether or not e-scooters are legalised through some form of regulation.

The point about fires that the shadow Minister mentioned has been a cause for concern; the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire and I have met the fire safety people about it. As the shadow Minister mentioned, most fires are caused by people using wrong batteries or wrong connectors. It is a product standards issue, and we are ensuring that there is enforcement. We have issued guidance to retailers and to the wider public on how to reduce the risk of fires.

The shadow Minister also mentioned pavement parking for people with sight loss, which is a real issue. One thing that we have been learning through the trials is how to get people to park in safe places, for example by having parking bays. The benefit of the 22 trials is that different areas have tried out different things, and we have seen what works and what does not. There has been dramatic progress on that, and we now know far better how to stop people leaving their e-scooters on the pavements and causing hazards. I should say that that is only really relevant for rental scooters, because no one is going to leave a private scooter out on the payment; it is a valuable thing, so people will take it home. But that is an example of how we have been learning through the trials.

The hon. Member for Bradford South mentioned the regulation of e-scooters to prevent dangerous riding. I should point out that e-scooters are classified as motor vehicles and are, at present, covered by exactly the same offences as cars. Things like death by dangerous driving are already covered for e-scooters.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Minister is being very kind on this auspicious occasion. Could he say something about the insurance of e-scooters? People are going to get killed and their lives are going to be destroyed. What about the insurance aspect?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Member makes a very valid point. If we do legislate, one thing we would want to look at is whether we should require insurance or not. Of the 22 countries that we have looked at that have legislated on this issue, 18 do not require insurance and four do. We do not require insurance for pedal bikes; if we did so for e-scooters, there would be a question about why we do not require them for pedal bikes. There is a range of issues there, as well as the safety side.

Finally—I am conscious of time—the shadow Minister asked about the recommendations that PACTS made on data gathering. Basically, we are abiding by all the regulations, and officials met PACTS just last month. We are improving police data collection. We are improving the trial data collection and are about to launch a second evaluation of the data from the e-scooter trials. It is incredibly important that we get the best information from those trials.

I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield again for securing this important debate. I agree that we need legislation, but it has to be based on evidence. I understand that during my speech a general election has been called on 4 July. If that is true, I can guarantee that we will not get any legislation in before the general election. Whoever wins the general election will have to do the legislating, but they will have the support of the officials at the Department for Transport and will get all the information that I have about the need for legislation. Again, thank you for bringing forward this debate. It has been very instructive; a lot of valid points have been made, and we will take them away.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Llafur, Bootle

I understand that earlier today the Prime Minister spoke to the King to request the Dissolution of Parliament ahead of a general election on 4 July. I call Barry Sheerman to wind up the debate if he so wishes.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 5:30, 22 Mai 2024

I am surprised to be called again: looking at the time, I was not sure I would have the opportunity. This has been an excellent debate. There are a lot of good people here who are knowledgeable and care about the subject.

This is almost a tsunami that is going to hit us. It should not be party political. We should make sure that we protect people, especially children, and we should act now. I thank all colleagues for their contributions—and thank you, Mr Dowd, for your wonderful chairmanship.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered e-scooter deaths and serious injuries.

Sitting adjourned.