Rising injuries from e-scooters on Britain's streets

New plague on our pavements: As MPs say e-scooters should be legalised, we reveal the growing toll of the ‘silent killing machines’ hurtling down every High Street – from broken bones, skull fractures and brain haemorrhages to deaths

  • Emily Hartridge  died when her e-scooter collided with a lorry in Battersea 
  • Hospitals are now seeing increasing numbers of e-scooter related injuries 
  • Those that need surgery often have complex facial fractures and eye damage 

Hopping on to her electric scooter, Cameron Maclean headed out on her half-hour commute to the hairdressing salon where she works.

But seconds after leaving, she found herself lying face down on the pavement — dazed, bloodied and bruised.

The front wheel of the £500 e-scooter had struck a loose drain cover, catapulting her over the handle bars.

‘I went flying through the air, grazing my hands and knees when I hit the ground,’ said 40-year-old Miss Maclean. ‘Luckily enough I was wearing my helmet otherwise I think I would have knocked myself unconscious.’

Unfortunately, as well as cuts and bruises, on arriving at hospital she discovered the impact had broken her left foot, meaning that she had to take three weeks off work following the accident in August. As for the scooter, it was a mangled wreck.

Two riders of rented e-scooters wearing covid masks as a disguise drive through the pedestrianised town centre of Middlesbrough

‘Even if it wasn’t broken I wouldn’t have gone back out on it,’ she said. ‘When I bought it I just thought it would be a great way to get to work, saving money and meaning I didn’t have to go on a bus. I didn’t look into the dangers. Now I don’t think they’re safe to be ridden on the roads.’

Of course, legally speaking, she should not have been on those roads in the first place.

It is currently against the law to ride a privately-owned scooter on anything other than private land. And, even then, you must have the permission of the landowner to do so.

Shockingly, some of the scooters currently on sale — legally — in the UK can reach speeds in excess of 40mph — far faster than a car is allowed to travel in a residential area.

Those illegally using e-scooters on pavements or public roads can face a £300 fixed penalty notice and six points on their driving licence.

But take a stroll around any city or town and it quickly becomes clear how many people are brazenly flouting the rules, careering along busy roads or weaving in and out of pedestrians on packed pavements.

Further evidence of their popularity comes from booming sales figures. Searches online increased by more than 375 per cent during lockdown, while Halfords reported a 230 per cent surge in sales of electric bikes and scooters over the summer.

And the expectation is that their illegal use is only going to get worse. Part of the reason, experts warn, is the confusion sown by the launch of a series of official trials around the country.

In July, the Government made it legal for rental companies to hire out e-scooters in some 30 cities and towns. Users must be over 16, have a driving licence and the scooters must be limited to a top speed of 15.5mph.

While the launch has not gone entirely smoothly — it has already been suspended in Coventry following reports of users mounting pavements and driving through shopping centres — many assume it is the first step towards allowing more widespread use of the battery-powered devices.

And that view will only have been strengthened by yesterday’s report by the MPs’ transport committee which called for all e-scooters to be fully legalised — allowing even those who do not possess a driving licence to use them.

This is despite warnings that their popularity is already resulting in growing numbers of serious injuries and fatalities. In the UK, three people are now known to have died using them, while in America the number of e-scooter accidents that leave people needing hospital treatment has risen by more than 222 per cent in four years.

There are particular concerns about the risk of head injuries. Research has shown that nearly a third of patients admitted to hospital suffer head trauma — more than twice the rate of head injuries to cyclists.

‘We were concerned about the trials because we feared they would give a green-light to illegal use,’ says David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a charity which advises MPs on air, rail and road safety issues.

‘We were concerned that people who bought electric scooters privately, which is not an offence, would then start using them and assume it was legal to use them. And we were concerned that it would then make it much more difficult for the police to enforce. All these things appear to have happened. They are endangering and scaring pedestrians and people are having serious injuries, injuries they would not be having in a car or as pedestrians. These are tragedies for the individuals and a burden on the NHS. The Government is being irresponsible in allowing the current situation to develop as it has.’

Emily Hartridge was killed in a collision with a lorry while riding an e-scooter near her home in Battersea, south London

Go online and a quick search for electric scooters shows the vast array of models on sale in the UK.

They range in cost from a few hundred pounds to several thousand.

And, browsing the websites of some of the biggest sellers, it is clear just how many people are buying them to use on public roads — blatantly ignoring the law.

Take Halfords, for example. 

Click on one of their range and the following wording appears at the top of the page: ‘It is illegal to use an e-scooter on a public road, pavement, cycle lane or bridleway. E-scooters should only be ridden on private land with permission of the land owner.’

But click on the product reviews and it’s evident that many purchasers ignore that warning.

Take, for example, the Xiaomi M365 pro Electric scooter — on sale for £599 and capable of speeds of 15.5mph and with a range of 28 miles.

‘My husband loves it for leisure and his commute to work,’ writes a customer called Nina.

A mother from Warrington notes: ‘Great scooter — my 17-year-old son uses it to get to work.’

Over on the website of a company called Pure Electric there’s a similar warning about not using e-scooters on public roads or pavements.

But, again, the comments linked to purchases suggest a lot of its customers don’t care.

‘Top speed is 25km/h which makes it very fast,’ says Adela. ‘I get to pick up my daughter from school and saves me after-school club fees.’

Asked about these comments, a spokesperson for Halfords said: ‘We thank the Daily Mail for bringing this to our attention and are in the process of removing these reviews from our website… We strongly advise our customers to follow the law.’

As for Pure Electric, spokesman Tom McPhail said the company was doing ‘everything possible’ to promote the safe use of e-scooters, including making clear to customers what the laws currently allow.

But he added: ‘Some of the laws governing the use of electric scooters date back to before Queen Victoria came to the throne; the Government needs to get on with updating regulations scooters now, so they can be used safely.’

But that doesn’t appear to be likely to happen any time soon.

This week a debate was held in the House of Lords to raise concerns about the sudden introduction of the pilot schemes.

Take, for example, the Xiaomi M365 pro Electric scooter (pictured) — on sale for £599 and capable of speeds of 15.5mph and with a range of 28 miles

At least 30 towns and cities will run trials of the technology for the next 12 months. They have already been launched in Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Coventry and Northampton, with schemes soon to be introduced in cities such as York, Cambridge, Peterborough and Oxford.

During the debate, Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton revealed that when the trials finish they will be independently evaluated and a report published in 2021.

‘They are trials in the truest sense of the word, to see what works and what does not work,’ she said. ‘Nothing is being taken off the table.’

Which suggests that any change to the law governing the use of privately-owned e-scooters is unlikely to happen until 2022.

This clearly concerns Conservative peer Lord Blencathra, a former Home Office minister.

He described e-scooters ridden on pavements as ‘silent killing machines’ and called on the police to enforce the laws strictly or risk the sort of ‘anarchy’ seen in cities such as Paris after their use was green-lighted there.

‘If the Government persists with this introduction then I hope power is given to every police force in this country to enforce the law,’ he said. ‘If the police turn a blind eye to enforcement then I hope that they will ignore me when I use my stick to hit one of them off the pavement.

‘Do your duty, enforce the law because if you don’t enforce the law it brings it into disrepute.’

To what extent the police have enforced the law against illegal e-scooter use is unclear.

Last year during a week-long crackdown 100 people were caught illegally riding electric scooters in London. Most were given a warning — but ten were fined and had their scooters seized because they were travelling too fast or ignored a red light. In total in 2019, the Metropolitan Police seized a total of 54 scooters, with City of London police confiscating 12.

Confiscations by other forces were in single figures. Which is not to say they are not involved in other offences. Earlier this year a man became the first person to be convicted of drink-driving on an electric scooter, earning himself a 16-month driving ban.

Dmitry Gromov was one and a half times over the limit when he crashed into a moped, injuring both the driver and pillion passenger.

The 28-year-old, originally from Moscow, was also ordered to pay £3,367.96 in compensation to the two people injured.

Elsewhere in the world, intoxicated e-scooter users have been a major problem. Police in Munich recorded 414 alcohol-related offences on e-scooters during the Oktoberfest last year, with 254 people losing licences. A number of cases have also emerged of criminals using e-scooters to try to evade capture by police. One involved a man armed with a knife fleeing officers.

In another, a drug dealer was arrested as he used his e-scooter to deliver cannabis to customers.

The immediate concern, however, lies with the risk of serious injury.

Last week an inquest was held into the death of charity campaigner Barrie Howes. He was killed in a freak accident as he travelled home from work after heeding the Government’s call to avoid public transport in the early days of the pandemic.

The 57-year-old engineering instructor lost control of his e-scooter as he travelled down a steep road in Chatham, Kent. He flew off and, despite wearing a helmet, was found by a passer-by suffering from brain injuries.

Mr Howes was airlifted to hospital in London where his condition deteriorated and he died nine days later on July 3. Detective Sergeant Michael Champion, of Kent Police, said the scooter had a speed of ten to 30mph but that would have increased going downhill. ‘He would have been going at quite a speed when he lost control and crashed,’ he said.

Meanwhile in Wales police are investigating the death of a 55-year-old man who died when his electric scooter hit a parked car last month.

Julian Thomas was pronounced dead at the scene in Port Tennant, Swansea, following the late-night incident.

The first British death linked to e-scooters was that of 35-year-old TV presenter Emily Hartridge, who died when her e-scooter collided with a lorry in London.

Ruling the death was an accident, senior coroner Fiona Wilcox said the scooter was being driven too fast and the lack of air in the tyre had caused the YouTube star to lose control in Battersea, south-west London.

Hospitals are also seeing increasing numbers of injuries, particularly to the head. Studies have found that those who need surgery often suffer complex facial fractures to the bones around the eye and damage within the eye.

Christopher Uff, head of neurosurgery at the Royal London Hospital, says that the e-scooter patients being admitted have head injuries that are very similar to high-speed bike crashes.

‘We’ve already treated one rider who will suffer brain damage for the rest of his life and, sadly, at least one person has already been killed,’ he said. ‘We’ve also treated a number of pedestrians who have been knocked over by e-scooters on pavements. Typically, their injuries range from broken bones to skull fractures and, in one case, a brain haemorrhage.

‘If they’re allowed on pavements, they will kill pedestrians. And if they’re allowed on the roads, the riders will kill themselves.’

Words that should provide food for thought for those tasked with enforcing the current regulations — and those considering how to change them in the future.

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