The drivers would not require a licence or insurance and would be able to use cycle lanes. The proposal, which would not require legislation other than a change to rules on the the use of electric bicycles, was slipped out without publicity last month in a Transport Department consultation paper.
Road-safety groups and anti- drink-drive campaigners are furious, as the proposals would allow disqualified drivers to get back on the road immediately after conviction.
In France, similar vehicles are already in use, mainly by drink- drivers, and teenagers who sometimes tamper with the engines to make them go faster than the 45kph (28mph) for which they are designed.
The DoT paper presents three options, the first of which specifies: "Fully powered without any need for human assistance for propulsion; limited to the number of wheels or number of people carried; no limit on weight; maximum power IKW [currently 0.25Kwm]; maximum speed 25kph (15.5mph) or 45kph (28mph)."
The other two options would require stricter limits, including a 25kph maximum speed but would still permit four-wheelers and unlimited weight.
Organisations that should have been consulted on the issue were contacted by The Independent, which found most were unaware of the plan, because the consultation paper did not explain the implications.
Lynn Sloman, deputy director of Transport 2000, the pro-public transport group, said: "We just put it in the recycling bin.
"We had no idea of the implications, which could be disastrous for pedestrians."
Dave Rogers, transport safety officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "There could be dangers to pedestrians, as at 30mph almost half of people hit by vehicles are killed, while at 20mph very few are."
Maria Cape, spokeswoman for the Campaign against Drink Driving, said: "This is a very odd suggestion from a government which has spent a fortune on anti-drink-driving campaigns."Reuse content