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Hoverboards and self-balancing scooters road traffic law blog

Our next blogger is Gemma Zakrzewski from our Criminal Team.

Road Traffic Law Goes Back to the Future!

21st October 2015, a day known by many as ‘Back to the Future’ day. The day Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled to the future. The day all Back to the Future fans hoped they would be driving about in flying cars, but most importantly, the day many hoped they would be riding around on ‘Hoverboards’.

Whilst we’re yet to see flying cars become common place, there has been a surge in the sale of self-balancing scooters or personal transportation devices, also known as ‘Hoverboards'. These popular gadgets can cost anywhere between £150 to £1,200 and are set to become the most popular item under Christmas trees this year. However, if you’re planning on purchasing one during the festive season make sure you exercise caution as you could be inadvertently committing a driving offence when using it.

On 11th October 2015 the Crown Prosecution Service reiterated guidance on the use of personal transportation devices and the Metropolitan Police tweeted its followers to say the use of ‘Hoverboards’ in public was illegal. Now whilst it is not an offence simply to use these devices in public, it is an offence to use them on public roads and pavements. So if you’re considering purchasing a ‘Hoverboard', or already have done, take a few moments to read the information below to ensure you don’t get caught out by the law surrounding the use of your new gadget!

For those of you who have not seen one of these boards they are essentially a Segway without the handlebars and can reach speeds of up to 12mph. Popular with celebrities such as Justin Beiber, Lily Allen, Kendall Jenner and Brooklyn Beckham to name but a few, the devices have flooded our streets. However, as it stands they are classed as motor vehicles and therefore subject to our road traffic laws.

The Crown Prosecution Service guidance states the Department for Transport considers self-balancing scooters or ‘Hoverboards’ to be motor vehicles and all motor vehicles, used or kept on a public road, are required by law to be registered and licensed. As a consequence users of self-balancing scooters would need a driving licence and also motor insurance.

Now this is where the problem lies. In order to obtain registration a self-balancing scooter must comply with basic safety standards known as European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) or the requirements of the Motorcycle Single Vehicle Approval (MSVA) scheme. Without meeting these standards ‘Hoverboards’ cannot be registered and therefore cannot be used on the roads and as it stands no self-balancing scooter has obtained ECWVTA or MSVA. As self-balancing scooters cannot be licensed for use on public roads, they do not fall within the categories of vehicle covered by a driving licence. This means that even if you hold a full UK driving licence and are caught using a self-balancing scooter on a public road, you could be prosecuted for an offence of driving otherwise in accordance with a licence which is punishable by a fine and up to six penalty points.

Perhaps more concerning regarding the use of a self-balancing board on a public road, is the risk of prosecution for driving a motor vehicle without insurance. A conviction for this offence could result in a financial penalty and between 6-8 penalty points or disqualification from driving!

So where should we use these new expensive gadgets you may ask; pavements maybe? Well unfortunately that could also result in problems. In 2011 Phillip Coates was convicted of ‘wilfully riding a motor vehicle on a footpath’ contrary to Section 72 of the Highways Act 1853 (Yes, that’s 1853, 33 years before the birth of the modern car!). The circumstances were that Mr Coates was observed by a civilian police officer riding his Segway on a pavement. Mr Coates was convicted at the Magistrates’ Court and fined £75 for the offence and ordered to pay costs of £250. This test case saw the High Court uphold the judgment in the Magistrates’ Court which ruled Segways should be classed as carriages for the purpose of the Highways Act 1853 and therefore could not be used on pavements.

There have already been calls made for the use of ‘Hoverboards’ on our pavements and public roads to be legalised. Boris Johnson has recently been vocal on the issue in his column for The Telegraph, where he said “let’s get Back to the Future, and stop this ludicrous and nannying prohibition on the electric scooter-surfboard gizmos”. However it may be a while before we follow the likes of California where new legislation has been passed to allow the use of self-balancing scooters anywhere were bicycles may be used. 

For now then it would appear the only place one can use their ‘Hoverboard’ legally is on private property with the permission of the landowner.