You want to know if you will get in trouble by riding your new electric scooter, Segway or hoverboard in the street? Please read on, defining if electric scooters are legal is not as simple as saying yes or no.
Whether you are already an owner of an electric scooter or you are planning on purchasing one, it’s good to try to figure out in the first place if these kind of vehicles are allowed where you plan to ride them. If you are new to the electric scooters world and researching before your first purchase, we recommend that you read this introduction guide about scooters also.
I wish the answer could be a plain yes or no. Sadly this is not the case. As you might already guessed, the legality of the personal transporters will depend on the jurisdiction and its own laws, and this can be different from place to place. To complicate things further, not every jurisdiction will have the same strict definition about what an electric scooter is, in contrast to an electric bike, a moped or a motorized skateboard…
The shortest and straighter answer that we can give you is that you need to do your own research in your jurisdiction and try to identify correctly the type of vehicle as defined by your ruling regulations. But you are reading this article to NOT have to go and do all the research yourself in the first place, right? You want an answer to your question, so we will offer the best answer we can here, and hopefully this article will save you some time and painful research.
We are going to focus our explanation to the United States. First specifically for the state of California, and then in more general terms to the rest of the US. In this country, the regulations are set and controlled by the Department of Motorized Vehicles from each state. As we already mentioned, the laws are different from state to state, and while there might be some similarities, there are might be differences too.
Are electric scooters legal in the California Republic?
We are going to briefly touch what you can and cannot do on the State of California with electric scooters. This will serve you as good example, and hopefully shed some light over what the regulations might look like. But remember that if you are from another state you might want to confirm with your local authorities.
What is the Californian legal definition of an electric scooter?
California defines motorized scooters as “a two-wheeled device that has handlebars, a floorboard designed to be stood upon when riding, and is powered by a motor”. Electric scooters fall into this categorization.
Do I need a license to drive an electric scooter in California?
It is required to have a driver’s license and permit to drive an electric scooter in California. Although you won’t need insurance, registration or license plates. As the California Department of Motorized Vehicles states, any the driver’s license will suffice. There’s no specific licence for scooters.
What are the specific rules I must follow when riding in California?
When driving an electric scooter you should wear a helmet. Any bicycle helmet will do.
Regarding the driving, they cannot be operated on public roads that have a minimum speed limit of 25 Mph or more, unless they use the bike lanes. Also the scooter must be driven on the right side of the road, next to the curb when possible. To move left at any intersection you should stop and walk your scooter through the crosswalk until you reach the right side of the road you intend on taking.
There is a maximum speed limit of 15 Mph for any motorized scooter. If there is a bike lane in the road, you must use that lane. And you cannot drive on the sidewalk, excepting, of course, when enter or leaving a property.
You cannot leave your scooter on the road, path or sidewalk. Neither you are allowed to hitch into any other vehicle, so if your battery goes dead and you think that a Marty Macfly trick can save you, you might have problems with the law!
You cannot ride with any passengers. Riding in bike pathways is allowed, unless there’s a local ordinance that prohibits it. You must drive at least with one hand on the handlebars.
If you think on riding at night, you must have a white headlight in the front, and it must be visible from 300 feet to the front and also to the sides. The scooter must have a red light reflector on the rear and be visible for at least 500 feet away. To the sides you must have white or yellow light reflectors. Finally, you must have a wearable light or a light that can be attached to you, the rider, and it should be visible from 300 feet in front and from both sides.
The handlebars of the electric scooter must not exceed the rider’s shoulders height. It must have a brake. And finally the scooter must have a motor kill switch that’s activated when released or when the brakes are applied.
Electric scooter legality in the United States
This is the moment when we need to be more broader and generic in our topic. As we already mentioned, each state has its own regulation regarding electric scooters so we will try to give some general definition and concepts that will help you.
The type of vehicle is really important when trying to identify what you can or cannot do according to regulations. This should be the first step. In general, all states will recognize an electric scooter as a two wheeled vehicle, with step-through design, and handle bars. From this point on, the regulations will set a number of rules and procedures for riders of these vehicles under certain situations.
As you might already know if you read the case of California previously, the regulations will require certain equipment depending on the road or path you are riding, like brake lights or turn signals. So then, your scooter might not be able to comply all of the rules.
Some scooters have seats, while others require the rider to go standing. The speed electric scooters achieve varies from 8 Mph to about 20 Mph depending on brand and model. Some might have lights, but other might not.
Fear not, as most states and cities will follow some common sense in their regulation. Keep the following general guidelines in mind to be safe.
If you have a children scooter, these are designed for children younger than 16 years old. Usually they won’t exceed 15 Mph. the main purpose of these scooters is recreation only. Most states and cities will only allow to ride these type of scooters on parks and pathways and NOT on public roads. Some cities might allow you to ride these in residential streets with speed limits of 25 Mph or less, but to be safe don’t ride them on neighborhood streets unless you are sure they are allowed.
Adult scooter for the neighborhood
These types of scooters are bigger than the later, and usually its size will vary between brands and models. But they will accommodate teens and adults easily. They have more features than children scooters and also will allow higher speeds.
Most cities and states will allow to ride these electric scooters on public streets on neighborhood, with a speed limit of 25 Mph or less. There some specific cases where you will need a permit to ride too, like you’ve seen in the case of California.
Full sized scooters
Even bigger and faster than the neighborhood type, these will in most cases require a driver’s license. Mostly used by adults on public streets as an awesome commute aid. You will be able to ride them on public roads also, usually on bike or slow lanes meeting certain driving procedures (see the case for California above to get a good example of this). As these scooters can reach faster speeds, even if you ride them on park paths or slow-speed neighborhood streets, meeting the speed limits, you might be asked for the driver licence and any other safety requirements, like lights and safety gear.
Final words and further research
We recommend you to go a little bit further and check your state regulations also. Here you have a list of all the states and the links to each of their Department of Motorized Vehicles:
We hope this article has shed some light on the topic of electric scooter legality in the United States. The bigger and powerful your scooter, the more attention you will draw from traffic agents. Areas and roads with more traffic will also have more control.
You already made the first step in researching the legality and you should now have more information than before to move forward. To be absolutely sure, you only need one more step and visit your state DMV website to absolutely sure. If you need advice on finding the perfect scooter for you or your kid, start by deciding what electric scooter would be good for you and then checking out some of our product reviews. Also you can check this great selection of electric scooters by electricscooterexpert.com.
Please ride safe and use common sense. Happy riding and have fun!