Now that awesome electric scooters such as Xiaomi's model are easily available in the UK, whether or not they are actually legal to use here becomes a pertinent question - especially when it's not only the kids using them.

Electric scooters - kick-scooters that also build in a low-power motor - are classified as PLEVs, or Personal Light Electric Vehicles. They are not subject to taxes or registration, but neither are they legal for use anywhere other than private land in the UK.

This ruling seems hideously out-of-date, particularly when you consider that electric scooters typically go only slightly faster than the non-electric scooters favoured by many kids on route to school or even adults during their commute.

However, because they are motorised and have no pedals they are illegal for use on cycle lanes and pavements, and because they are low-powered they are illegal for use on the road.

If you are riding an electric scooter responsibly and showing due care to pedestrians and road users, we find it unlikely that you will be pulled over by the police.

BUT it can happen...

Will the police seize your electric scooter or fine you for riding it?

In July 2019 we began seeing reports in the national news of the Metropolitan Police seizing electric scooters and dishing out fines and warnings to those riding them.

The Telegraph reports that as a result of the Met's first operation targeting electric scooters almost 100 people in London were pulled over. Of those 100, however, only 10 were fined and had their scooters seized, a decision that was made because they were acting irresponsibly, for example speeding or breaking red lights, rather than riding them in the first place.

But while the Met is acting against - at the very least - irresponsible riders, the same can't necessarily be said for police forces elsewhere in the country.

Tech Advisor spoke to Ed Wiles, founder of Scootered.co.uk, whose own research suggests it is really only London police forces that are currently taking action. Having submitted FOI requests to every UK police force, only City of London has so far confirmed that it has seized a single scooter. 

Wiles also notes that seized scooters can be recovered from the vehicle recovery unit at a cost.

Where are electric scooters legal?

There are currently no plans to amend the law on electric scooters in the UK, according to the DfT. However, other European countries are taking a much more modern approach to things. In France a PLEV can go up to 25km/hour in a cycle lane, while Austria and Switzerland additionally extend this to road use. In France and Germany a PLEV can also go up to 6km/hour on the pavement.

The US State of California is also accepting of PLEVs in cycle lanes and on pavements and roads, provided the riders are over 16 and wearing a helmet. By comparison, riding a PLEV in New York City will land you a $500 fine.

What alternatives do you have?

It seems unfair, but it's worth noting that EAPCs (e-bikes) are treated in the eyes of the law as standard bikes provided they have pedals, go under 25km/hour, have working front and rear brakes at all times, lights and reflectors at night, and motors rated no higher than 250W. An electric scooter can meet many - but not all - of these requirements.

There is a lot of confusion among consumers regarding whether an electric scooter is classed as a moped, and it’s likely that this is due to their similarities with the more expensive and significantly faster GoPeds which were popular a few years back.

GoPeds are treated as mopeds in UK law, which means you cannot ride them on the pavement and if you wish to do so on the road they must be road-legal, taxed and insured. The rider must also be over the age of 16 and wearing a helmet.