If your child has been having a blast on an electric scooter lately, they are a part of a growing trend that isn’t just for kids! Electric scooters have become a popular accessory for teens and adults as well, and not just for recreation. In some urban areas, an electric scooter can function as a fun and easy way to get around without having to have a licensed and insured car for your commute. But if you are using an electric scooter as a means of transportation, rather than just a toy to ride around in the park with, one thing you’ll notice right away is that certain scooters have the label “street legal” while others do not.
What does that mean, exactly? If the draw of an electric scooter for your commute is that they don’t have to be licensed or insured, why do you need to worry about them being “street legal”? What makes a vehicle street legal in the first place? If your scooter isn’t street legal, will you get in trouble if you use it? In this article, we’re answering all of these questions and more.
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What Makes a Vehicle Street Legal?
If a vehicle is street legal, it means that it meets all the requirements that have been set in place for the legal use of public roads. That usually means that it has things like brake lights and turn signals so that the vehicle can safely operate around other vehicles. It also has to have certain safety features depending on what type of vehicle it is – for example, a gas-powered car is required to have seatbelts.
Unfortunately, the specific laws of what a vehicle must have to be street legal differs from state to state. The federal law that governs electric bikes is usually used to govern electric scooters as well. That law states that a vehicle with two or three wheels that is powered by a motor must not have a top speed of over 20 miles per hour, and the motor can’t produce more than 750 W (1.01 horsepower).
Is Your Electric Scooter Street Legal?
If your scooter doesn’t go faster than 20 miles per hour, and the motor doesn’t produce more than 750 W, then there’s a chance your scooter is considered street legal. However, you will have to check the laws for your state to ensure that it is legal for the roadways in your area. In some areas, the electric scooter is only allowed on streets with bike lanes; in others, an electric scooter can be driven on any roadway that has a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or lower.
However, in most states, you’ll find that as long as the scooter has the right tires, a suspension system, a review mirror, headlights and brake lights, signal lights, a horn, and power steering, then the scooter is considered street legal. Many states would require that the scooter driver wear a helmet as well. The handlebars of the scooter are not allowed to be higher than the shoulders of the driver.
Finally, most states require that any electric or powered vehicle have a brake system that works. If someone is “pulled over” by a cop with a scooter and the brake system does not work, they could receive a traffic ticket.
Some examples of street-legal scooters include:
- The OjO electric scooter
- The GigaByke Groove scooter
- The Ancheer Folding Electric Scooter
- The E-Drift UH-ES295
- The X-Treme XB-504
- The TaoTao ATE-501
Can’t You Just Ride on the Sidewalk? What Transportation Laws Apply to Scooters?
You cannot ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk. The best way to think of an electric scooter when it comes to transportation laws is to think of it as a bicycle. Drivers of scooters do have to follow traffic signs, stop lights, crosswalks, and so on. Because these are motorized vehicles, they cannot be driven on sidewalks, and must be on the roads.
One thing that gets confusing for riders of an electric scooter is that you may see Segways and motorized chairs on sidewalks. However, these types of devices are considered assistive mobility devices, so they follow special laws for those who need mobility assistance. Electric scooters do not fall under these laws.
That being said, if a kid under the age of 12 is riding a kid-sized electric scooter (essentially, a toy, that is not street legal) on the sidewalk, that is legal. But it is illegal for adults to ride electric scooters on the sidewalk.
Electric scooters are not required to be licensed or insured, and you do not have to have license plates to operate an electric scooter. This means also that a person does not have to have a driver’s license to operate an electric scooter in most states. They do have to be driven in bike lanes when they are available, and it is not legal in any state to ride on an electric scooter with a passenger.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, most electric scooters can be treated like an electric bicycle. So long as it has all the right safety features, like lights, reflectors, signals, and so on, an electric scooter is generally allowed to be driven in bike lanes. However, there are some specific laws about how fast scooters may go (no faster than 20 to 25 miles per hour in most states).
If you want to ride an electric scooter in a city for commuting, you most likely can. The big boom in using personal electric vehicles like scooters was not predicted by lawmakers, so the laws are not very specific in most areas. Generally, electric scooter users follow laws for electric bikes.
The laws for electric scooters are evolving. As more people get more interested in this type of transportation, more specific legislation is being developed. Electric scooters for commuting or for adult riders are expensive, but they do offer a variety of benefits such as green commuting and not requiring insurance. Lawmakers in every state are currently considering electric scooters as falling under the umbrella of consumer product laws.