Official thinking behind e-scooter mph speed limit

Following the recent Metric Views article about the miles per hour (mph) speed limits for e-schooters, Ronnie Cohen wrote to his MP about the issue. Ronnie now reports on the responses that he has received, and adds his comments.

The regulations set a maximum speed limit for electric scooters of 15.5 mph. This seems to be designed to authorise e-scooters with a speed limit of 25 km/h but apparently makes them illegal because 25 km/h is equivalent to 15.53 mph, higher than the regulations allow. Here is the email to my MP about this anomaly:

“Dear Mike Freer

The government recently introduced legislation to allow electric scooters with a maximum speed of 15.5 mph (e.g. see https://www.gov.uk/electric-bike-rules). This odd speed limit appears to be intended to permit electric scooters up to 25 km/h. These scooters are designed with kilometre-based maximum speed limits presumably because they are sold internationally and most countries use kilometres for speeds and distances on their roads.

I have seen some electric scooters on sale with a maximum speed limit of 25 km/h. This is equivalent to 15.53 mph so would be illegal under the new electric scooter regulations. It is questionable whether they fit the legal definition of an electric scooter and could be challenged in court. A failure to ensure that vehicles are legally compliant could void insurance policies. It could also invalidate the legislation for these electric scooters. The legislation may have the unintended consequence of reclassifying them as motorcycles or mopeds. This could have serious legal implications for their owners, as the electric bike rules state:

“If a bike meets the EAPC requirements it’s classed as a normal pedal bike. This means you can ride it on cycle paths and anywhere else pedal bikes are allowed.

Any electric bike that does not meet the EAPC rules is classed as a motorcycle or moped and needs to be registered and taxed. You’ll need a driving licence to ride one and you must wear a crash helmet.”

The government could have avoided this problem if it introduced a kilometre-based rather than a mile-based speed limit. Why did the government introduce a mile-based speed limit for vehicles designed with kilometre-based speed limits?

Can you please ask the relevant minister to change the maximum speed limit from 15.5 mph to 25 km/h. This would remove the legal ambiguity about the status of electric scooters with a 25 km/h maximum speed limit.

If the government does not do this, electric scooters with 25 km/h speed limits might not be covered by the legislation and the government could be taken to court in cases (e.g. accidents, ownership, licensing, etc.) involving electric scooters with 25 km/h speed limits.

Ronnie Cohen”

My MP replied to tell me that he has contacted the Secretary of State for Transport on my behalf and passed on my concerns in full and that he will be in touch again once he has a response from him. He wrote to me again with a full explanation about the government’s decision to use of mile-based maximum speed limit for e-scooters in the regulations:

“Dear Mr Cohen,

Thank your contacting me to raise concerns regarding speed limits on electric scooters.

In terms of the mph and kmph [sic] issue, the answer is simply that the UK uses mph on its road networks and the rule is therefore in line with standard practice.

I note also that 15.5mph is 24.94483 km ph [sic] and 15.6mph is 25.10577 kmph [sic]. Essentially, bikes that have a limit of 25kmph [sic] are considered by the regulation to have a limit of 15.5mph after a small rounding down. Ultimately if you go above 15.5mph you will have also gone above 25kmph [sic]. 25kmph [sic] in mph is 15.5343.

I hope this clarifies the specific area of concern to your satisfaction.

E-bikes, scooters and e-cargo bikes have substantial potential benefits. It is therefore welcome that steps are being taken to promote their use. For example, e-bikes have been included in the Department for Transport’s Cycle to Work Scheme. The scheme incentivises employers to support their employees with the costs of a bicycle, including e-bikes, so that they can cycle to work.

More broadly, the Government has recently announced a new £5 billion funding package to boost bus and cycle links for every region outside London over the next five years.  This follows the £2 billion allocated for investment in cycling and walking between 2016/17 and 2020/21. Overall, this funding will help boost the use of e-bikes and scooters as well as the use of conventional bikes.

It is important that we always remain mindful of health and safety concerns as we work hard to embrace and encourage cleaner and more sustainable new forms of transport technology.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours,

Mike Freer MP
Member of Parliament for Finchley & Golders Green and Government Whip

Mike Freer tells me that “UK uses mph on its road networks and the rule is therefore in line with standard practice”. So why do government regulations require km for distances on digital tachographs and km/h for speeds on digital tachographs and speed limiters? If other legislation specifies speed limits in km/h, why not use km/h for e-scooter speed limits?

The Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020 uses the following criteria to define an electric scooter:

(a) is fitted with an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating not exceeding 500 watts;
(b) is not fitted with pedals that are capable of propelling the vehicle;
(c) has two wheels, one front and one rear, aligned along the direction of travel;
(d) is designed to carry no more than one person;
(e) has a maximum weight, excluding the driver, not exceeding 55 kilograms;
(f) has a maximum design speed not exceeding 15.5 miles per hour;
(g) has a means of directional control through the use of handlebars which are mechanically linked to the steered wheel;
(h) has a means of controlling the speed through hand controls; and
(i) has a power control that defaults to the ‘off’ position;”;

Many e-scooters with a top speed of 25 km/h (15.5343 mph) are on sale but they appear to break rule (f). The legislation says that e-scooters must have “a maximum design speed not exceeding 15.5 miles per hour”. It does not say “rounded off to the nearest tenth of a mile”. Such e-scooters clearly exceed the maximum design speed of 15.5 mph. If the government had used a kilometre-based maximum speed limit for e-scooters, they could have avoided this problem. Do such e-scooters meet the legal definition of an “electric scooter” or are they illegal? Surely, it is only a matter of time before this is tested in court.

Sources:

7 thoughts on “Official thinking behind e-scooter mph speed limit”

  1. Ronnie, well done.
    Do you know who was the specific Secretary of State for Transport responsible for this reply?
    Was it Rachel Maclean MP. Member of Parliament for Redditch? It’s clear that the person (probably a civil servant) who wrote the reply on behalf of the Secretary of State didn’t know anything about the use of correct symbols (km/h); and was truely mixed up with the use of abbreviations.

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  2. Surely this is a limit for health and safety reasons? It’s a design and manufacturing regulation and nothing to do with road traffic distance or speed limits.
    One wonders what the situation would be if the police stopped a scooter rider whom they believed to be ‘speeding’. They would be unlikely to have measured the actual speed and would need to impound the scooter then have it tested to check if it was indeed capable of travelling at a speed greater than the legal limit.

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  3. Mary,
    It is a shame that correct symbols along with other rules are not taught in the schools. The BIPM produces a style-guide, but they need to work with local governments of all signatory countries to teach SI according to the style guide. How hard can it be to learn to use SI the right way? It isn’t just wrong symbols encountered, but no space between numbers and symbols, pluralisation of symbols, full stops following a symbol (except at the end of a sentence), etc. Here are two links to proper and improper use of SI units:
    https://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/checklist.html
    https://www.nist.gov/pml/special-publication-811/nist-guide-si-chapter-6-rules-and-style-conventions-printing-and-using

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  4. Modernman, I highly doubt the police have a speed detector that can detect whether a vehicle is going 15.5 miles per hour or 25 km/h and claim the vehicle going 25 km/h is speeding. The law however needs to be clear to the point that it states the speed limit as 25 km/h as the primary speed by design of the vehicle and 15.5 in brackets as the secondary speed conversion. Most jurisdictions normally have a speed tolerance and even a vehicle going 26 km/h is not flagged.

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  5. There is a fundamental difference between a design speed and a speed limit. The Units of Measurement Regulation 1995 permit the use of “miles” for “road traffic signs, distance and speed measurement”. It is debatable whether or not this extends to engineering DESIGN. Anyway, I am sure that no design documents will show a DESIGN speed of 15.5 mph, only of 25 km/h.
    One classic example of problems in this area is that the Eurostar’s design speed is 300 km/h. This was approximated to 186 mph. On passing through Waterloo Station a year or so ago, I saw an advertisement for Eurostar which it claimed could whisk you to France at up to 186 mph (299 km/h).

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  6. Licence categories for mopeds are based on metric speed limits. The AM, P and Q licence categories for 2-wheeled vehicles are based on maximum design speeds expressed in kilometres per hour.

    It is bizarre that the licence categories for mopeds and other 2-wheeled vehicles are based on speed limits in kilometres per hour but the recent e-scooter legislation legally defines e-scooters that meet several criteria, including one with a maximum speed limit expressed miles per hour.

    You can find all this information on the Department for Transport website. There is clearly a cognitive dissonance at the DfT in vehicle legislation. Has this been overlooked by ministers when they insisted that new e-scooter legislation must use miles per hour rather than kilometres per hour?

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  7. To pick up on Martin Vlietstra’s point, I’m still seeing the terms “speed limit” and “maximum design speed” used interchangeably in this thread. This is confusing, and is causing some misunderstanding. The two terms are not the same thing. Indeed, as far as I am aware, there is no speed limit specifically for e-scooters, mph or otherwise. No one is going to be stopped for speeding if they are travelling at 30 mph on an e-scooter in a 30 mph zone.

    The title of this post includes the words “e-scooter mph speed limit”, and the first paragraph refers to the recent article which it says was “about the miles per hour (mph) speed limits for e-schooters (sic)”. However, my original post was NOT about “speed limits”. It was about the “maximum design speed” requirement for e-scooters under recent vehicle construction and use legislation. The legislation does not refer to a “maximum speed limit expressed miles per hour (sic)”.

    For clarification, the “maximum design speed” of an e-scooter refers to the speed above which its electric power is automatically completely cut off. This is carried out by a device built into the vehicle called a speed limiter. To re-iterate the point in my original post, under the new legislation, an e-scooter with a maximum design speed of 25 km/h (15.53 mph) would fail to meet the vehicle construction requirement that it should have “a maximum design speed not exceeding 15.5 mph”.

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