Road Traffic (Amendment) (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to regulate the use of personal light electric vehicles, including electric scooters and electrically assisted pedal cycles, and for that purpose to amend the Road Traffic Act 1961, to make a number of consequential amendments and to provide for related matters.

I seek leave to introduce the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) Bill to provide for electrical scooters and electrical bicycles in Irish legislation. It is an important step forward in micromobility, which is a growing and innovative sector of the economy and one which I expect will pay a greater role in our lives as we adapt to cleaner and more efficient technologies and transport methods in the fight against climate change.

In mid-2020, I began work on this legislation to address what I see as an urgent need to provide clarity to consumers, providers and law enforcement bodies in relation to e-scooters and certain e-bikes, which all Members of this House will have seen. They are a common sight on our streets and, without legislation, we run the risk of permitting devices which are unsafe or unsuitable for the Irish market. For example, during my research I was contacted by a provider of electric bikes who was made aware of a customer who had privately acquired a bike that exceeded 70 km/h when assembled. There are examples of e-scooters advertised on international websites as having speeds in excess of 50 km/h with availability in Ireland.

This Bill will seek to regularise these vehicles while providing regulations that will ensure their safe use on Irish roads, thus bringing Ireland in line with many of our European partners, and put us on a path to providing eco-friendly and sustainable microtransport options in our urban centres.

Transport in Ireland is a changing sector and an area in which I believe we can make a real change in a relatively short amount of time. Micromobility will be fundamental to this, providing people with sustainable options for those last few kilometres of their journey. By adapting new technologies and making them safe, we can become a leader in using innovation, not only to meet our climate change target, but also to improve our villages and cities and make them more liveable. We have an opportunity here to encourage entrepreneurs and consumers to make a difference and make more sustainable choices. In the process we will grow new jobs, drive the economy forward and make our cities healthier.

Climate change will not be reversed with one Bill or with one sector meeting its goals. Instead, it will take a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, working with businesses to help consumers make the best decisions possible. We have it within our power to try to negate the effects and avoid the worst-case scenarios in regard to climate change. Engaging with environmentally friendly technologies and transport options is one small piece of this puzzle. I hope it will ultimately see us become not only a leader in climate action but also, as an international community, pass a healthier planet on to our children.

Section 1 of the Bill defines the phrases contained within. Section 2 prescribes the necessary specifications with regard to electric scooters and electrically assisted pedal cycles for the purposes of the Bill. Those that do not meet the specifications will continue to be bound by the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2018, as other multipurpose vehicles, MPV. The section will allow for the Minister for Transport to prescribe other electrically-assisted vehicles as personal light electric vehicles, PLEV, which is important to allow innovators to innovate without the need for further legislation.

Section 3 allows the Minister to prescribe certain specifications with regard to the weight, height, length or width of a personal light electric vehicle, or any class of such vehicle, for the purposes of section 2. Regulations under the section can prescribe a maximum or minimum amount in respect of any amount of measurement concerned. Section 4 prohibits the removal of, or tampering with, the speed-limiting device that shall be installed on all PLEVs, and it shall be offence to do so. Section 5 provides for the holding of a mobile phone while driving, with some minor exemptions, as an offence. Section 6 prohibits persons under the age of 16 from driving a personal light electric vehicle. The Minister may also prescribe an age greater than 16 years of age as the minimum age for the purposes of any particular class of personal light electric vehicle should he or she choose to do so.

Section 7 makes amendments to the Road Traffic Act 1961 with regard to the definitions. Sections 8 and 9 amend the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 to exempt PLEVs from the requirement with regard to motor tax and vehicle registration. Section 10 gives the Road Safety Authority, RSA, an express function with regard to providing guidance on the safe operation of personal light electric vehicles. Section 11 provides for a number of consequential amendments. Section 12 is a standard provision and provides for the Minister to make powers of regulation under the Bill. Finally, section 13 is a standard form provision and provides for the Short Title of the Bill, collective citations, constructions and commencement of the Bill.

In conclusion, it would be remiss of me not to mention prior attempts to legislate for electric scooters taken in the Thirty-second Dáil. Deputy MacSharry, former Deputy, Mr. Noel Rock and many other Members should be commended on their efforts to raise the issue in debates and parliamentary questions. Thankfully, we now have a far more responsive Minister in the Department of Transport.

The Bill took an unfortunate length of time to reach the floor of the House after I completed it. I would, however, like to thank not only my own staff and, indeed, outside counsel for their assistance, but also the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers for its wonderful work in 2020. I also thank members of the Green Party, Fianna Gael and Fianna Fáil for insisting that this provision be included in the programme for Government and, indeed, for our collective membership for endorsing it. I commend the Bill to the House.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.