Electric scooters always were one of the children’s favorite toys, but lately they are getting very popular among young adults as well, 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 what is street legal electric scooter and what is not in the electric vehicles space. In this article we will try to throw some light on this complicated matter.
What does “street legal” mean?
The term street legal refers to the vehicles that can be legally ridden on the street, i.e. 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.
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 vehicle 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 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 the vehicles that look more like a Vespa, less like a moped, and nothing like a bicycle. This not only looks very strange, but also makes pedaling very 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.
BUT, 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.
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, no insurance is 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.
If you’ve somehow managed to clear the confusion about whether you are allowed to take your scooter on the road, let’s now talk about whether you should do it.
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 have to be sturdy enough and powerful enough to keep up with the traffic on the types of roads it travels. Street legal electric scooters have 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.
Street Legal Electric Scooters Examples
If all the explanations above were too confusing for you, let’s just cut to the chase. Here’s a list of 6 e-scooters that are allowed on the road. Some of them require driver’s license, some of them do not, which, again, varies from state to state. Go through the options and hopefully you’ll get an idea of what will fit your needs best.