For the past few months, I’ve been commuting in Dublin using my Xiaomi m365 electric scooter. My commute is entirely within the city centre so I’m the perfect use-case of these nimble green modes of transport. There’s a downside though. Right now, electric scooters are moving within what some perceive to be a legal grey area, a grey area one scooter rider found himself on the wrong side of this week after Gardai seized his electric scooter.
The Problem With Electric Scooters
That title is a bit unfair because the problem isn’t actually with electric scooters at all. Legislation in Ireland is generally quite slow to change and as a result, An Garda Siochana are often left dealing with legal grey areas. For electric scooters, this grey area boils down to one simple question: are electric scooters mechanically propelled vehicles (MPVs).
you need to push off and reach 5 kmph before pushing down the throttle
I’ve already written about why my own scooter, the Xiaomi m365, is not classified as an MPV. To start the scooter, you need to push off and reach 5 kmph before pushing down the throttle and letting the electric motor kick in. For this reason, the scooter is not mechanically propelled, a point which is specifically called out on several key websites, including the website of An Garda Siochana and the RSA website.
On the website of An Garda Siochana, they state “the legal position is that if one of these scooters can be powered by mechanical or electrical power alone, and does not require pedalling or scooting for propulsion, then the scooter is considered to be a mechanically propelled vehicle (MPV) in terms of road traffic legislation”.
According to the RSA, “if it can be powered by mechanical or electrical power alone (i.e. it can go without you pedalling or scooting it) then it is considered to be a mechanically propelled vehicle (MPV)”.
With this in mind, I personally feel quite comfortable on my own electric scooter that I’m not riding an MPV and as such, I don’t require tax or insurance. I still ride it safely, using only roads and bike lanes, never riding on a footpath and always wearing a helmet, hi-vis and using my lights when it’s dark. Sensible stuff.
But recently, another scooter owner got in touch with me to say his scooter was seized by An Garda Siochana.
Gardai Seize an Electric Scooter
George rides a Kugoo S1 electric scooter. While different to my own in a few ways, the Kugoo S1 is a kick-scooter. That means, like mine, you need to push to start before the motor will kick in. For this reason, the Kugoo S1 is also not classed as an MPV.
I chatted with George who explained what happened.
He was stopped by a Garda when riding in a bicycle lane on the Templeogue Road, near the Terenure Library. The Garda had parked his motorbike in the bicycle lane and had already stopped a rider of an electric unicycle.
The Garda asked George to step down from his scooter before explaining that he would be seizing the Kugoo S1. I asked George if he was given a reason for the seizure, to which he explained the Garda had stated it was for “riding an MPV without licence, insurance and tax”. George told me that he tried to explain to the Garda why his scooter was not an MPV, but soon after a tow truck came along to take both the electric scooter and the electric unicycle away.
To get his scooter back, George had to visit the Garda impound and pay €125 to get his scooter released, the same fee paid to have should you ever have your car impounded.
Regards the insurance argument; I’ve contacted insurance companies and here’s what happens when you ask to get electric scooters insured…
Why Did This Happen?
I’ve seen quite a few electric scooter riders do things which, to me, would justify their scooter being seized. Some might think I’m a bit harsh, but riding without some hi-viz, lights and a helmet while staying off the footpaths, is just a requirement for me. If you’re doing any of these things, you deserve to lose your scooter. Like this guy from a few years ago, not wearing a helmet on a scooter with a seat…
DMR Traffic Electric mechanically propelled scooter stopped on public road No Insurance/Licence Scooter seized & prosecution to follow pic.twitter.com/FaehHMwjOw— An Garda Síochána (@GardaTraffic) July 27, 2017
So I asked George if this could be the case. He informed me that it was daytime, so he didn’t need a light on but he was wearing a helmet and hi-vis with a flashing red light on his backpack too.
In my eyes, this is a really unusual case because not only is the scooter in question not an MPV, the rider was being as responsible as possible. Rather interestingly, I also chatted to another scooter rider who was stopped in a similar situation on the same day.
Again, a Garda with a motorbike parked near a bike lane and stopped this rider who was riding a Xiaomi m365, just like my own. In this case, the rider explained to the Garda that the scooter wasn’t an MPV. This time, however, while the Garda disagreed with the rider he was let away with a warning and was informed that if he saw him again, the scooter would be seized and it would lead to a court date.
So What’s The Actual Stance Of An Garda Siochana?
I spoke with another scooter rider who, in light of hearing these stories, headed to his local Garda Station in Crumlin Village to see what they make of electric scooters. He asked them if they would stop him if they saw him riding his scooter and they said they wouldn’t bother unless he was doing something stupid. They also stated that they understand the scooters are in a legal loophole.
This does leave the question: why was George’s scooter seized and another rider was told he was being let off with a warning?
To get the answer to this, I reached out to the Garda Press Office for more information. I outlined what happened to George and the other riders and at first they sent me the same information the RSA make available which I’ve shared above.
I asked for further clarifications around why an electric scooter could be seized as an MPV despite falling outside the classification. The Press Office responded, “whether a vehicle is an MPV is defined in the Road Traffic Act and it is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide based on the evidence provided”.
The Garda representative concluded, “our normal policy is not to interpret any particular piece of legislation. If someone has a complaint related to any Garda action there is a process for making such complaint”.
Gardai seized a scooter on the assertion it was an MPV even though it would appear electric kick-scooters fall beyond this definition. On the spot, it’s not the job of An Garda Siochana to interpret the law, but instead, to apply it as best they can. In this situation, it would appear that electric scooters are operating in a grey area. Naturally, with grey areas, this means Gardai are put in a difficult position when it comes to applying the law.
What we need now, more than ever, is those who draft legislation to make a move and shine some light on these legal grey areas. Irish legislation is dramatically behind the requirements of Ireland’s modern inhabitants and it needs to be sorted as soon as possible.
Update: Since I researched this article, another electric scooter rider named Victoria got in touch with Newstalk and discussed how her scooter was seized. She was the fifth scooter on the night to be confiscated and this all took place on the same day. What followed was an incredibly interesting discussion which centered on the possibility that electric scooters were illegally taken by Gardai.
Even more interesting is the experience by the guys over at escoot.ie. After being pulled over on a Xiaomi m365 and presenting Gardai with a printed sheet defining why his scooter wasn’t an MPV, this rider was informed he was completely correct by the Gardai and sent on his way with no further action. I’m away to print this sheet off immediately.