“Hoverboards” in the UK: Banned since 1835

October 14, 2015

Self-balancing scooters—also called hoverboards or segways—have become increasingly popular over the last few years and all over the world. Recent news depicted famous Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli riding his hoverboard through a shopping center in Manchester, featured hoverboards on Good Morning America used in a unique dance routine, and highlighted a video of a man riding his hoverboard in the Ka’bah, Islam’s most sacred shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The scooters’ popularity soared with the recent development of a new hands-free design, differentiating hoverboards from traditional segways. These new hoverboard scooters have no vertical bar or handlebars for the rider, but instead, feature only two wheels and a flat surface to stand on. To accelerate or decelerate, the rider must lean forward or backwards respectively.
Although consumers seem enthralled by these self-balancing scooters, the devices are not welcomed warmly everywhere. With the rapidly increasing popularity of hoverboards, the Metropolitan Police Service in the UK released a Tweet on October 11, 2015 explaining that it is illegal to ride hoverboards in public. The tweet links to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) website for “Road Traffic Offences”, which has a separate section specifically for segways. In short, the CPS website explains that the Department for Transport states segways and similar mechanically propelled vehicles used on public roads must be registered and licensed as motor vehicles. However, the Department for Transport makes clear it is “not aware of  any self-balancing scooters which have [European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval]”, which is necessary for registering vehicles for road use. Thus, all self-propelled scooters cannot be legally registered, licensed, or operated on any public road in the UK. Hoverboarders caught riding on public roads are committing the criminal offences of operating a vehicle without insurance and an excise license.
Unfortunately for prospective hoverboarders in the UK, the prohibition extends beyond just public roads. In fact, all vehicles have been banned from operation on any footpath or pavement near a road for over 180 years. According to Section 72 of Highway Act 1835, no person “shall willfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers.” It is worth noting that the Highway Act of 1835 applies only to riders in England and Wales, but Scotland shares the same prohibition under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

Therefore, using any self-propelled scooter on any public sidewalk or road in the UK is illegal, forcing hoverboarders to seek the permission of private property owners to utilize their scooters.

How fervently this prohibition on hoverboards and other self-balanced scooters will be upheld in the UK remains to be seen. As of yet, no one has been arrested for hoverboarding in London. In 2011, however, a South Yorkshire man was fined £75 for using his segway on the pavement and an additional sum of £265 for other costs and a victim surcharge. Across the pond, famous rapper Wiz Khalifa was arrested on August 22, 2015 for riding his hoverboard through the Los Angeles International Airport. Interestingly, Khalifa’s arrest only fanned the flames of the hoverboard movement, pushing the scooters even further into the mainstream. It is predicted that, despite the prohibition, the popularity of hoverboards will continue to soar globally. Put succinctly by Simon Benson of hoverboard distributor Ghetto Gadgets, “[M]illennials are not going to take kindly to the authorities using a law that pre-dates the penny-farthing to tell them what they can or can’t do on the streets of Britain.”