ELECTRIC MOBILITY SCOOTER LEGAL STATUS
DISCLAIMER: This page is provided as help only and does not constitute legal advice. The information in this article may not be comprehensive or current. You are solely responsible for knowing and obeying the laws which pertain to you. The term street- legal refers to vehicles that can be legally ridden on the street, i.e. that meet all the requirements determined by the authorities to be allowed on public roads. This usually means that the vehicle needs to have specific configurations of lighting, signal lights, and safety equipment to be compliant with certain safety standards.
Electric scooters are becoming popular among young adults, especially among millennials that are looking for new ways to get around as an alternative to owning a car. Part of the appeal of the electric scooters is that some of them are advertised as vehicles that can be operated without license and registration. But does that mean they are banned from roadways? And what about the e-scooters labeled as “street legal”? Are they classified as motorcycles, mopeds, motor scooters or something else? In the USA, it can get very confusing to understand exactly what is street legal and what is not in the electric vehicles space. We will try to throw some light on this complicated matter.
In addition to the legality of the vehicle itself, trying to figure out whether you need a license to operate your electric scooter on public road is not as simple as straightforward as you might hope.
Federal law from 2002 defined electric bikes as “two or three wheeled vehicles with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph and an electric motor that produces less than 750 W (1.01 hp).” If the electric scooter falls into this category, it’s typically street legal, and doesn’t require license and registration in most states. To fit within these guidelines some manufacturers have slapped on a pair of pedals onto vehicles that look more like a Vespa, less like a moped, and nothing like a bicycle. This not only looks strange, but also makes pedaling difficult and, in some cases, practically impossible. But if you are willing to get over this, you will be allowed to ride on public roads at a speed of up to 20mph without registration.
Keep in mind, however, that if you are riding a street legal e-bike that looks like a gas-powered scooter, it might be difficult to convince your local policeman that it fits the legal definition for a bicycle. We know of several cases of people getting fined for driving these vehicles without a license, even though it’s perfectly legitimate according to law.
Law requirements in different states
California laws recognize “motorized scooter” as any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, a deck that is designed to be stood upon when riding and is powered by an electric motor. Motorized scooters are not defined as motor vehicles, so they do not require registration; additionally, insurance is not required and license plates do not have to be displayed.
Electric scooters may be operated on a trail, bicycle path, or bikeway; however, if the governing body of a local agency or local authority has jurisdiction over a trail, path, or bikeway, these governing bodies may prohibit the operation of an electric scooter by ordinance. You are not allowed to operate an e-scooter on the sidewalk. The driver must be at least 16 years old and must wear properly fitted bicycle helmet meeting regulated safety standards.
Electric scooters are permitted on roads that do not have bicycle lanes as long as the speed limit for that road is no more than 25 mph. Unless turning left or passing, the scooter must be ridden close to the right hand curb.
Florida statutes point out the difference between motorized scooters, motor scooters, mopeds, and motorized bicycles. According to Laws of Florida “motor vehicle” is “any self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped.”
Motorized bicycle is defined as a vehicle propelled by a combination of human power and an electric helper motor capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of not more than 20 mph on level ground.
Moped is “any vehicle with pedals to permit propulsion by human power, having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels; with a motor rated not in excess of 2 brake horsepower and not capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 mph on level ground; and with a power-drive system that functions directly or automatically without clutching or shifting gears by the operator after the drive system is engaged.” These vehicles can be operated on the roadways, no title is required, but registration is. However, if the top speed is limited to 20 mph even if it looks like a moped, it can be classified as an electric bike and thereby avoid the registration requirements for mopeds.
A Motorized scooter is any vehicle or micro-mobility device that is powered by a motor; it can come with or without a seat or saddle for the rider, and has less than three wheels, and is not capable of propelling the vehicle at speeds greater than 20 miles per hour on level ground. From 6.18.2019 and onward a motorized scooter doesn’t require licensing, registration, insurance or a driver’s license.
Motor scooters are motor vehicles, so they are allowed on Florida roadways.
Update: As of 6/18/2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that legalized electric scooter sharing in Florida. The House Bill 453 is effective immediately. E-scooter companies such as Bird, Lime, Jump and Spin can operate anywhere under the regulation of Florida counties, cities and towns. This is a big win for the scooter sharing companies, but local governments and cities in Florida still have the final say if they will allow rideshare scooters on their streets.
Also, motorized scooters are now permitted in the streets and bike lanes after the legislation lifted a restriction that previously limited them to sidewalks.
New York Law
New York laws for bike lane scooter ride
If you love the idea of riding an e-scooter on city streets, but happen to live in New York, you’re out of luck: electric scooters and the electric bikes are illegal. Below is a list of vehicles that cannot be registered or operated on New York State sidewalks, streets or highways, according to the DMV.
- Motorized Scooter – a device with a motor attached and a handlebar for a standing rider.
- Mini-bike – a small, motorized device with two wheels, created for off-road use that doesn’t qualify as a moped, a motorcycle or an ATV.
- Off-road Motorcycle (Dirt Bike) – A motorcycle designed for off-road use.
- Go-Kart – a small, motorized device with four wheels, created for off-road use, which is neither a motor vehicle nor ATV.
- Golf Cart – a small motorized device with four wheels designed to carry people.
- Motor-assisted Bicycle – a bicycle to which a small motor is attached. It doesn’t qualify for a registration as a motorcycle, moped or ATV and doesn’t have the same equipment.
Maybe this won’t stop you from rebelliously deciding to zip around NYC on your e-scooter, but if you get pulled over, you might be facing a ticket. Or going to jail. However, the future looks bright for pedal-assist bicycles. The Department of Transportation recently published a new rule clarifying the legality of so-called pedal-assist bikes. The rule, which took effect July 28, 2018 legalizes electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, with motors that turn on only when the cyclist is pedaling and turn off when the speed hits 20 MPH.
UPDATE April 1st, 2020: New York State lawmakers have reached tentative Budget Agreement that includes a provision that would legalize throttle-based electric bikes and scooters. The budget language almost exactly mirrors a bill that passed the New York State Legislature last year but was vetoed at the last minute by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The bill creates three classes of electric bicycles based on speed. In addition, electric scooters with speeds up to 15 mph will be legalized. However, riders under 18 years of age as well as all users of class 3 bicycles will be required to wear a helmet.
The state of Texas defines electric bikes as a device that is designed to be propelled by an electric motor, exclusively or in combination with human power and cannot attain a speed of more than 20mph in electric only mode. Electric bikes may not exceed a weight of 100 lbs. There are no licensing and registration requirements for electric bikes. The department or a local authority may not prohibit the use of an electric bicycle on a highway that is used primarily by motor vehicles.
Motor-assisted scooter is defined as a self-propelled device with:
- at least two wheels in contact with the ground during operation
- a gas or electric motor not exceeding 40 cubic centimeters (40cc is approx. 1.2 hp, or just under 900W)
- a deck designed to allow a person to stand or sit while operating the device
- the ability to be propelled by human power alone
- This does not include a pocket bike or a mini motorbike
A motor-assisted scooter may be operated only on a street or highway for which the posted speed limit is 35 mph or less. Traffic laws which apply to bicycles also apply to motor assisted scooters and the operator must obey the usual traffic laws that bicycle operators must obey such as speed limit, signal turns, etc. TRC 551.302(d) states that some laws that apply to a motor vehicle do not apply to these scooters, which means you do not need safety inspection, driver’s license, registration or insurance to operate an electric scooter with up to 750w motor.
If you are planning on taking an electric scooter on the road it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with any local or municipal legislation. The best source of information is your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). Start by going to their website and looking for Transportation Code that applies to you.
Is your scooter road-ready?
If you’ve somehow managed to clear the confusion about whether or not you are allowed to take your scooter on the road the question becomes “but should you?”
Riding small, toy-like electric powered scooters on the road is generally not allowed, and for a good reason. They are just not sturdy, fast or safe. Unlike smaller electric scooters that are designed for recreational operation, roadworthy scooters need to be sturdy enough and powerful enough to keep up with the traffic on the types of roads it travels. Street-legal electric scooters need to be equipped with right tires, suspension system and steering for road driving and certain safety features, such as review mirrors, lights, turn signals, horn (requirements can vary by state.)
When you are riding your bicycle, skateboard, scooter or other device on the road, the road rules apply to you. And regardless of the regulations in your state, we always recommend wearing a helmet.
Article by: Douglas Steinman | 04/01/2020 | Electric Scooters