Combining affordability, the latest technology, green credentials and street credibility, the last few years have seen a significant increase in the popularity and use of electric motorised scooters – ‘e-scooters’ – and other forms of micro-mobility transportation. In this article we look at some of the potential implications and risks for colleges and universities and measures that might be considered in response.
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic may have temporarily stemmed the increase seen in recent years in the popularity and use of e-scooters, it is predicted that post-pandemic there will be a strong recovery. This may be reinforced as such means of travel may be regarded by some as presenting a reduced risk of Covid-19 infection when compared to that associated with use of public transport.
As colleges and universities prepare to open their doors and welcome students back to campus and with the use of e-scooters often being accompanied by serious injury risks to both riders and others, the need for risk assessments and policies relating to their use by both students and staff should not be overlooked.
The statistics are a possible cause for concern. According to a recent study in the US, it was found:
- 45% of e-scooter accidents resulted in riders suffering head injuries, many involving traumatic brain injuries. Many of these injuries could have been prevented or lessened had a suitable helmet been worn (the study found very few riders wore safety helmets);
- 27% of injuries involved upper limb fractures;
- The e-scooter accident rate was 14.3 per 100,000 trips, potentially making riders sixteen times more likely to be injured than car drivers and nine times more likely than cyclists;
- The median age of injured riders is 29;
- Half of those interviewed reported that a pothole or other surface defect caused their accident;
- Drugs or alcohol were often a feature.
Taking the above statistical background into account, it is perhaps not surprising that some personal injury solicitor firms and claims management companies (CMCs) are developing strategies and marketing their services in order to capture injured riders as claimant clients.
Legal use of e-Scooters in the UK
The use of privately owned e-scooters on UK roads is currently illegal, unlike in many European countries.
Use is permitted in the UK on private land with the landowner’s permission. Permission may be expressly given or implied. If a landowner is aware of e-scooter usage on its premises but has not taken sufficient steps to advertise or enforce a prohibition of use, then permission may be implied.
Department of Transport Trials
In the summer of 2020 the Government launched 12 month approved trials of the use of e-scooters in a number of towns and cities to measure the risks and benefits, involving the following parameters:
- The e-Scooter must be provided by a designated e-scooter rental operator;
- The maximum speed of the e-scooter is 15.5mph;
- The rider must hold a driving licence with a category Q entitlement;
- Third-party liability insurance is required which is provided via the rental operator;
- Wearing of a cycle helmet and high-visibility clothing is strongly recommended but is not a legal requirement;
- Use is permitted on the road and cycle lanes but not on pavements;
- Mobile phones must not be used when riding an e-scooter;
- Drink and drug driving laws apply.
In some trials e-scooters are deployed with computer vision and AI technology to sense the presence of pedestrians and automatically reduce speed. Lane recognition technology and warning systems to alert riders to potholes have also been trialled. Geo-fencing technology has been used to restrict speed and use to within permitted zones.
It remains to be seen to what extent and in what way the Government will legislate for use of these devices in the future; the general expectation is that use will be legislated for subject to various requirements and prohibitions.
Accidents and Legal Liabilities
As owners and/or occupiers of their sites, colleges and universities owe a duty of care to all visitors to take such care as is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises. Additional duties arise in connection with the employer-employee relationship.
Colleges and universities therefore face potential legal liabilities in respect of claims from both riders of e-scooters and others where they permit e-scooter use on their premises, thereby creating a potential duty to guard against the foreseeable risks that such usage might entail. Riders and others may suffer injury or property damage arising from various risks associated with such use.
Students, staff and other visitors to college and university premises are likely to be a key group of e-scooter users and potential claims could be attempted arising out of the following types of scenarios:
- Riding into collision with a pedestrian, cyclist, motorist or another e-scooter rider;
- Losing control after hitting potholes of other surface defects on carriageways, pavements or paths (the relatively small wheels of e-scooters render them particularly vulnerable to surface defects);
- Losing control under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs;
- Inexperienced riders;
- Showing off and taking unnecessary risks.
It is important to note that claimants and their legal advisers are likely to look closely at whether the college or university can in any way be blamed for an accident, particularly where an e-scooter rider may not possess insurance cover. In such situations, even if a college or university were only partially to blame, the legal principle of joint and several liability may enable a full recovery to be made from the college or university.
Legal liability avenues that may be explored by claimants include:
- Failure to enforce bans on use of e-scooters whether that be entirely or in non-permitted usage zones.
- Inadequate segregation of e-scooter use from pedestrians and others;
- Failure to clearly identify permitted usage zones;
- Inadequate lighting;
- Potential vicarious liability if an employee using an e–scooter whilst at work, or going to and from work, negligently causes injury or property damage to others;
- Potential liability to employees injured whilst using e-scooters which have not been properly maintained;
- Risks arising from charging as well as safe parking and storage, including the theft of or damage to e-scooters.
Pending legislation, there is a need to carefully consider the risks of e-scooter usage on college and university premises, including:
- Whether there should be a complete ban of e-scooters on college and university premises or, if not, whether use should be restricted to designated areas or zones. Different policies will apply to different establishments according to their general policies, configuration, needs and outlook on micro-mobility;
- The requirement for risk assessments if use is permitted;
- Consideration to designated areas or zones which should be clearly marked. These may be within the same areas designated for cyclists. It is important to devise separate areas for pedestrians. Consideration to be given to how this be monitored and enforced locally;
- Compulsory wearing of helmets and high visibility clothing;
- Rules relating to safe parking and storage;
- Whether there should be a registration scheme to encourage engagement with students including conditions of use;
- The general condition, inspection and maintenance of areas that may see e-scooter use;
- E-scooters should not be allowed on pavements used by pedestrians under any circumstances;
- Whether users should be required to provide details of personal liability insurance cover before permitted to use on site;
- The need for publicising the position including in college and university policies.