Is skateboarding legal in Australia?

E-skateboards: progress is driving away


Progress is increasingly making alternative mobility concepts possible. Electronic, efficient and low in emissions. Unfortunately, German legislation is not keeping pace with this change, complains Nico Kuhlmann.

Progress is breaking new ground, also on German roads and sidewalks. A variety of innovative miniature electric vehicles have recently appeared on the market. These include, for example, electric scooters, but also so-called e-skateboards. As the name suggests, these are skateboards with electric drives. They are quiet, efficient, low-emission and fun. Only the German legal system has not yet mastered it.

As with conventional skateboards, it is controlled by shifting your weight. Acceleration and braking, on the other hand, are handled by a small, barely visible electric motor that is controlled by a remote control. The maximum speed of e-skateboards depends on the drive and can be up to 40 km / h in current models with a powerful motor. As is usual with electric motors, the acceleration can only be described as sporty. The range is between 10 and 30 km. Electric scooters work in a similar way; unlike a skateboard, they have a handlebar and, above all, brakes.

The advantages of e-skateboards and electric scooters are obvious: They represent an environmentally friendly and space-saving way of getting around, which is particularly suitable for the city and, among other things - in connection with local public transport - solve the so-called problem of the last mile can. This means that they are basically ideal for being part of a future urban mobility concept. However, there have been recurring concerns about safety.

E-Skateboards: The great unknown in German road traffic law

Driving with e-skateboards and electric scooters is currently not permitted on public roads in Germany. This prohibition is not based on a conscious decision by a parliament, but on outdated laws and regulations that simply did not provide for this type of transport. E-skateboards have been around since the turn of the millennium, but many national legislators have still not responded to them.

In Germany, e-skateboards and electric scooters are currently only allowed to be used on private property, but not in public spaces, as these are subject to approval under road traffic law, but not eligible. According to § 1 II StVG, all land vehicles that are moved by machine power without being tied to railroad tracks are motor vehicles within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act (StVG) and such motor vehicles require a road approval.

The problem with street legal is that e-skateboards are a type of vehicle that German registration law simply does not recognize. This means that they cannot be classified in any existing category and therefore cannot be approved by the authorities. The necessary legal adjustment would be minor, but legally necessary.

No liability insurance can be taken out without authorization. However, driving without liability insurance is a criminal offense according to Section 6 of the Compulsory Insurance Act and can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year. In addition, the skateboard or scooter can also be withdrawn with intent. Anyone caught by the police has to fear criminal proceedings and the loss of their means of transport.

Slow speed of German legislation

German politicians at the federal level are well aware of this fact. As early as 2016, the Federal Council asked the federal government in a resolution to regulate the "behavioral and licensing requirements for the operation of self-balancing vehicles and vehicles with electric drives that do not have at least one seat in public transport" as soon as possible.

The Federal Council was of the opinion that e-skateboards represent an interesting addition to the range of local public transport services and that uniform, binding rules for operation are required from the point of view of promoting electric mobility. But then nothing happened.

In response to a small question from the Bündnis90 / Die Grünen parliamentary group in 2017, the federal government replied that it welcomed the use of environmentally friendly means of transport, as these would help connect the various modes of transport and, thanks to their electric drive, are emission-free and noiseless. The federal government promised to have recognized the need and to work on it. A corresponding category that is eligible for approval has not yet been created.

E-skateboards have long since arrived on German roads

Although the e-skateboards and similar vehicles are therefore not permitted for use in road traffic according to the current legal situation in Germany, they are still offered in many places - especially on the Internet - and used enthusiastically by adults as well as by young people and children. They are often advertised as sports equipment and not as a means of promotion. The reality is of course different. E-skateboards can also be found on German streets in more and more cities.

The police do not like to see this and act according to their mandate if an e-skateboard is used illegally. Some time ago, for example, the Berlin police stopped a driver, confronted him and temporarily confiscated the board. When the Berlin police reported this incident on social networks, a lively discussion about the sense and nonsense of the measure and the underlying legal situation developed. Recently, the Berlin police are said to have confiscated a total of up to 30 e-skateboards.

California as a pioneer

Instead, other countries are also promoting this compact form of electromobility from an environmental point of view by adapting the legal situation. Australia, Singapore and Sweden, for example, have adapted existing laws and issued new rules.

The global pioneer was progressive California, the birthplace of skate culture. The US state passed Act No. 604 specifically with regard to electrically powered skateboards back in 2015. According to this, e-skateboards are allowed on public roads and paths if a maximum speed of 15 mph (approx. 24 km / h) is not exceeded. The driver must also be at least 16 years old and helmets are compulsory. Lights, reflectors and similar safety equipment are only required when the skateboard is used at night and on the streets. In the meantime, e-skateboards have become an integral part of the streetscape in San Francisco and Los Angeles and the drivers let the air of freedom blow through their hair.

Ecological and economic impact

The previous legislative inactivity in Germany not only has negative effects on those who would like to use this form of transport themselves and cannot do so due to the current legal situation without breaking the law. The environment also suffers if means of transport with internal combustion engines are used instead, which emit fine dust.

In addition, the legal situation hinders the German economy. For example, the promising Hamburg startup Mellow Boards, which has developed a modern and powerful electric drive for skateboards and also manufactured it in Germany, has a clear locational disadvantage because the home market is largely blocked for no good reason.

If Germany wants to keep up with technological progress or even want to actively shape it, then everyone has to make their contribution. This also applies to the legislature.

The author Nico Kuhlmann (@NicoKuhlmann) is a research associate at Hogan Lovells International LLP in Hamburg.