I’m not sure if the news coverage of electric scooters has ramped up in the past few weeks or if I’m just extra aware because I own one. I’m also not sure if everyone is talking about them or they just get mentioned around me because I own one. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me though. In the past week, electric scooters have featured in the Irish Times, Ray Darcy’s radio show and someone mentioned to me that they featured on Crimecall too.
All of this furore is down to the legal grey area certain scooters sit within and that is whether or not they are MPVs. If you ride a scooter which requires you to push start it, I’m more confident than ever that Gardai should not be able to seize your scooter. That said, they still might, but I’m going to make my case for why you should be fine.
The Xiaomi m365 Electric Scooter
I ride a Xiaomi m365 electric scooter. Top speed 25kmph. Advertised range of 30km. It’s a great way to get around the city. I’ve previously explained why they are not considered mechanically propelled vehicles or MPVs. The Xiaomi m365 requires a scooter to start. This means if you push the throttle from a standing start, nothing happens. You need to be moving first.
The Garda Press office pointed out a set of FAQs issued by the Road Safety Authority which state “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)”.
While that should be a slam dunk, alas it’s not enough for the Gardai who began seizing electric scooters just like mine over the past few weeks. Their reason? Driving an MPV without insurance.
I contacted the Garda Press Office again and got the same boilerplate response which didn’t address the subtleties in defining an MPV. Next up, Garda Traffic.
Garda Traffic Response to Electric Scooters
Garda Traffic is a distinct department of An Garda Siochana responsible for policing our roads. They seemed to be the next natural port of call for my queries so I got in touch with Superintendent Murphy based out of Dublin Castle.
I pointed out why my scooter would not be an MPV, a video of two Gardai on bikes agreeing with a scooter rider they stopped and asked why they were seizing scooters like the m365.
The first response I received stated, “if a vehicle can be powered solely by mechanical or electrical means it is considered an MPV, and must have insurance, tax, licensing etc. if used on a public road. For example, when you stop pedalling or scooting on the vehicle, a motor takes over and powers the vehicle without any further pedalling or scooting. If however, the vehicle is assisted only, it is not classed as an MPV. An example of such is a pedelec”.
The response then also referenced the same RSA FAQs sent by the press office, leaving me once again confused. On the one hand, this email sought to assure me my own scooter was an MPV while referencing the same document which I’m using to show why it’s not.
So I sought additional clarification, which lead to another response:
your electric scooter, it falls under the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle as defined by Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1961
“In relation to your electric scooter, it falls under the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle as defined by Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. That definition states that an MPV as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means including:
- A bicycle or tricycle with an attachment for propelling it by mechanical power, whether or not the attachment is being used.
- A vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical or partly electrical and partly mechanical.
There is no reference to top or maximum speed, power, brake horsepower, minimum speed or the word “scoot” which seems to be causing a lot of confusion.
These e-scooters simply need one push off from a standing start, they are then propelled by electric power alone meaning they are MPV’s and require insurance to be driven in a public place”.
While this all seems very legal, I was left with one very simple question. When defining an assisted vehicle versus an MPV, does the law actually state where the human effort must take place?
And to think people pay to go to law school.
Defining Electric Scooters as Assisted Vehicles
In their efforts to clarify a legal grey area, the Gardai have actually just muddied the waters even more. While scooter seizures appear the continue on a daily basis, the electric scooters appear to be further and further away from being MPVs.
In the last repsonse, I got from Garda Traffic, I was informed that my scooter “simply need[s] one push off from a standing start, they are then propelled by electric power alone”. But should it matter where that human effort takes place?
If it pleases the court I would like to refer to exhibit 2B. Sorry, I always wanted to say that and recently I watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia…
In short, I’m putting on my lawyer hat as I reference some precedent.
Kilkenny Man Drunk On A Scooter
You really couldn’t make this up. On April 1st, of all days, back in 2011, a Kilkenny man by the name of Jodie O’Dwyer had a drink driving case thrown out by a Judge William Harnett on the grounds that his peddle scooter was a “mechanically assisted” and not “mechanically propelled” vehicle. While I’m at pains to stress how against riding a scooter drunk, or after any drink at all and that this guy should have been charged with a similar offence for bicycles, this was referred to by barrister Michael Lanigan as a “landmark case”.
After it was thrown out by the judge, speaking outside court, Mr O’Dwyer explained the mechanics of how his scooter was powered: “once you build up the speed by pedalling to 15 miles per hour it runs by itself on a battery until you brake”.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury….sorry, that’s just too much fun. But seriously, that’s the same mechanics as my own scooter. You must manually scoot and get up to 5kmph before pressing the throttle and having the motor kick in. After this the motor keeps you moving until you brake.
my electric scooter is the same as the peddle scooter which a Judge already stated was not an MPV
While the speed thresholds are different, this means my electric scooter is the same as the peddle scooter which a Judge already stated was not an MPV but a mechanically assisted vehicle.
What Does This Mean?
Unfortunately, I don’t see this clarification helping at all. I can’t imagine referencing The State versus O’Dwyer 2011 will do anything more than make me feel like I’m in a court case as a Garda oversees my electric scooter being loaded onto a tow truck. Yes, they use tow trucks for scooters.
I don’t see anything changing for electric scooter riders until there’s a clarification in the law. While the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, has commissioned the RSA to create a report on what other European cities are doing, I can’t help but feel this is kicking the can down the road. It can’t be that hard to take a quick look at what other cities are doing. It’s a stall technique for some reason or another and nothing will change unless someone takes action.
Scooting To Court
I was chatting with Garry, the founder of Skoot.ie who has reported a 50% loss in business since Garda began seizing scooters. Garry is currently lining up a High Court challenge against An Garda Siochana for theft of scooters from members of the public.
Garry stated: “the scooters we sell are electrically assisted kickscooters, with a maximum speed of 25 kilometres per hour. They are not mechanically propelled vehicles (MPV’s), therefore they are NOT subject to the provisions of the Road Traffic Act. The reason why they aren’t deemed MPV’s is due to the fact that there is no mechanical or electrical propulsion from the outset. Human movement e.g a manual scoot is necessary in order for the electrical power to commence”.
Garry believes An Garda Siochana “are misinterpreting the law, and are wrongfully deeming these eco-friendly, alternative methods of transport as MPV’s, when they are more akin to an electrically assisted bicycle”.
Citing that “Ireland has always been very very slow in responding to trends”, Garry asserted his belief that electric scooters “do not breach any existing legislation, therefore they aren’t illegal”. He concluded by stating he believes the “seizure of these modern cycles constitutes an act of theft by An Garda Siochana”. This will be the crux of his argument in court.
As we chatted Garry also made an interesting comparison between electric scooters and the head shops which appeared around the country years ago. While both are linked with legal grey areas, head shops were not acted on until they were outlawed. Scooters, which are decidedly less harmful to health, reduce congestion and are actually a bit of craic, have immediately landed on Gardai radars for some reason.
An Open Mind On Scooters
A few weeks back when scooters appeared on Prime Time I predicted that things would kick off. It looks like the end might very well be in sight and hopefully, this can all be put to bed well in advance of the RSA report which could take months if not years to be completed.
Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, stated he is maintaining an open mind on electric scooters. He also plans to speak with Shane Ross on the topic. I’ve reached out to Shane Ross for comment on several occasions but have yet to receive a comment.
Scooters have received an understandable showing of support by The Green Party after Ciaran Cuffe highlighted their environmental benefit recently.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of support for electric scooters, yet every day I see reports of these clean green congestion beating machines being seized. Let’s hope the end is nigh for this saga so we can all scoot in peace.