Improvements in battery and motor technology have led to a proliferation of new forms of personal transport that do not sit easily within any of the traditional categories for motor vehicles. Examples include ‘hoverboards’, Segways, electric skateboards and electric unicycles. In official parlance, these tend to be known as ‘micromobility devices’ or ‘personal light electric vehicles’. The most popular type these devices is the upright, electric scooter, commonly known as the e-scooter.
Micromobility devices offer a range of advantages to the consumer: they are small, light and cheap to run, and as an alternative to cars and motorcycles they are a means of travel with a very low carbon footprint. Further, like bicycles or e-bikes they have the potential to reduce traffic and congestion.
Until very recently, no specific laws governed the use of micromobility devices and their use has continued unregulated. A lack of legislation has led to confusion for consumers, motorists, police forces and the courts.
A Motor Vehicle?
In the absence of any clear statute specifically dealing with micromobility devices, the primary source of legislation is the Road Traffic Act 1988 which sets out, amongst other things, obligations for road users, in particular the users of motor vehicles.
For example, under s87(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is an offence to drive on a road a motor vehicle of any class otherwise in accordance with a licence. Similarly, under s143(1), a driver of a motor vehicle is obliged to have third-party insurance when driving on a road.
A motor vehicle is defined in section 185(1)(c) as ‘a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads’. Exceptions and subcategories are carved out for mobility scooters, tractors, motorcycles and other varieties of established motor vehicles. However, in the context of new types of vehicle, this definition has had to be interpreted by courts.
On the face of it, micromobility devices are mechanically propelled. The real issue is whether they are ‘intended or adapted for use on roads’.
We may think of e-scooters and micromobility devices as very modern inventions. However, some of the relevant case law goes back as far as 60 years ago. The case of Burns v Currell  2 QB 433 concerns David Burns, who in September 1962 was caught driving a Go-Kart on a quiet industrial road in High Wycombe. He was charged and convicted of a series of regulatory offences and fined £5, 4s. He appealed to the High Court by way of case stated.
The main issue for the Court to consider was whether the Go-Kart was ‘intended or adapted for use on roads for the purposes of section 253 of the Road Traffic Act 1960’ (since replaced by section 185 of the Road Traffic Act 1988).
It was held that the test to be applied was whether a reasonable person looking at the vehicle would say that one of its users would be a road user, or whether some general use on the roads was contemplated by a user.
In the context of the Go-Kart, the justices found that there was no evidence that people tended to use these on the road and there was no such material before the Court at first instance that would have allowed the bench to be sure as to be able to convict. The result was in the context of this particular case, the Go-Kart was not considered to be a vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads.
This case ( 1 All E.R. 318) concerned the use of a ‘scrambler’ motorcycle. The motorcycle had been originally built for road use but had since been adapted for off-road use by removing the registration plates, lights and speedometer. It was not insured.
The defendant had been caught by the police pushing this bike on a public road and was charged with several contraventions of the Road Traffic Act 1972. He was acquitted and the prosecutor appealed by way of case stated. As part of the grounds of appeal, it was suggested that the motorcycle – despite its modifications – was still a motor vehicle for the purposes of the Act.
The Court emphasised that the test in Burns v Currell was based upon the view of the ‘reasonable person’, not the particular user of the vehicle. Nevertheless, the Court at first instance had enough information to find on the facts that the vehicle had been adapted such that a reasonable person would not anticipate some road use. Accordingly, it was not a motor vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads.
This case ( RTR 252) concerned a forklift truck. The truck had been insured for use on the road and occasionally used on the roads to travel between industrial sites by a previous owner.
The driver of the truck was stopped and the driver was charged with regulatory crimes relating to a worn tyre tread. The defendant contended that the truck was not intended or adapted for use on public roads and was therefore not a motor vehicle. He was convicted and appealed to the Divisional Court.
On appeal, the justices dismissed the appeal. They had applied the test in Burns v Currell and concluded that it was a motor vehicle for the purposes of the Act.
This case marks a turning point in the case law where the test as set out in Burns starts to be applied very broadly. As long as a reasonable person might anticipate some use on the road, a vehicle could be considered a motor vehicle for the purposes of the Act.
One of the earliest cases involving a modern form of personal transport was Saddington  EWHC Admin 409. In 1999 Mr Saddington was charged with regulatory offences after being caught riding an unregistered and uninsured scooter on the road in Harrogate without a licence. The scooter he was riding was called a ‘Go-Ped’, an early incarnation of the modern electric standing scooter, albeit one powered by a small two-stroke engine mounted on the footboard. It was capable of travelling up to 20mph on a flat surface.
The issue for the Divisional Court was whether the Go-Ped was a motor vehicle ‘intended or adapted for use on the road’ for the purposes of section 185 of the 1988 Act. If it was such a motor vehicle, it would require insurance and registration, just like a traditional motorcycle.
The Go-Ped was hardly a traditional road vehicle; it had no lights, no suspension and no indicators. It was also marketed as an executive toy rather than a means of road transport. Further, it was not practical as an off-road vehicle as it required a flat surface in order to move at a useful speed. Mr Saddington accepted that it was not compliant with the the applicable construction and use regulations and argued the point that as a toy, it was clearly not meant for use on the road.
Adopting the test in Burns v Currell, the opinion of the justices at first instance was that a reasonable…