The story of Vancouver based Daniel Dahlberg’s run in with the law in June captured more headlines than it should of. Dahlberg had been riding his electric skateboard (a Boosted board) on the road before being asked to “pull over” by a fun-busting state police officer. In the words of Daniel himself, “it was a pretty ridiculous thing to hear when riding a skateboard”.
Things got serious for Darhlberg when he was slapped with an on-the-spot fine of $600 (Canadian) for riding without insurance- in spite of the fact that this type of insurance doesn’t actually exist yet. The story caught national headlines because of its ludicrous nature but also because it posed a question that no-one really thought to ask: are electric scooters and other new electric rides actually street legal?
So What Are The Laws Regarding Electric Scooters?
Early incarnations of electric scooters were low-powered chuggers that could be categorized easily enough under existing laws; where a framework for electric powered devices like mobility scooters already existed. But technology on electric scooters has developed so rapidly- Ojo already have a 35mph scooter in the pipeline– that the legal system is struggling to keep up.
In the US, electric motor vehicles are governed by broad Federal Law as well as each states own legislation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates electric vehicles under the Electric Bicycle section of consumer product law which you can read in full here. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your day poring over legal documentation, here’s a quick video that covers the basic requirements for MOST states…
Low-speed electric bicycles are considered street legal. You won’t need a license or insurance to ride them but you do need to be at least 16 years of age. Riding is allowed in bicycle lanes but not on sidewalks where they could cause harm to pedestrians and you can ride your scooter on roads, as long as the speed limit is 25mph or below.
It seems simple enough, although things get a little more complicated when it comes to deciding whether an electric scooter is a “low-speed electric bicycle”. According to CPSC low-speed bicycles have 2 or 3 wheels, pedals and an engine limited at 750W. So long as the top-speed won’t exceed 20mph with a 170llb rider, then it’s classed this way.
Of course, electric scooters don’t have pedals. In 2011, in an effort to promote green energy, further legislation, worked on by the Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA), was passed. This law clarified that allowed “electric bicycles and scooters to go wherever pedal bikes go”.
The LEVA legislation has freed up the laws and grown the electric scooter industry significantly. In the upper price range, it’s not uncommon to find vehicles that go over 20mph and use engines up to 1000W. These should be classed as motor vehicles but, thanks to a loop hole which states self-constructed kit is to be considered outside of motor safety standards, you still don’t need a license or insurance to ride.
The use of dual motors is another grey area in electric powered vehicles. A company can use dual 750W motors,for example, which provides a combined output of 1500W without being classed as a motor-vehicle.
Every State Is Different
Electric powered scooters not too different from bicycles in terms of where, when and how you can ride them. Of course, each state will also have individual laws that may be stricter than federal regulations. Vermont, for example, will let you ride up to 30mph on flat whereas Maryland, will only let you use a 500W motor. Wikipedia has a handy break down of each state’s legislation, but it may not be completely up to date, so it’s always worth contacting your local authority directly for comprehensive advice.
Electric motor vehicles, like electric scooters, aren’t clearly governed by state law with lots of loopholes in place. A reason for that is the sudden popularity of electric scooters which has left the law behind.
The other issue is that states want to be seen as promoting green energy as well as a need to find alternative modes of transport. In the US, 70% of people are living in cities. It makes sense to assume most of these people will want cars so the problem becomes infrastructure.
It’s much easier to make transport devices fit into existing roads than it is to re-design whole cities. This is why electric powered scooters, not cars, are the future of transport. For Daniel Dahlberg, the fine for opting for green energy instead of motorized transport doesn’t make sense given Vancouver’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. It’s also the reason why electric scooter laws are relatively relaxed compared to motor scooters. It’s in the interest of states to promote their usage.
You may have read that vehicles limited to 15mph are able to ride on sidewalks. This is a popular line trotted out by most publications but it’s not strictly true. The 15mph law is for electric personal assistive mobility devices (EPAMD). This covers anything from Segways to mobility scooters and tends to be governed individually by state authority. There’s a fair amount of variety here state-to-state so it’s worth doing your research.
You might see a Segway on the sidewalk and decide to follow it on your 15mph limited scooter. The problem is that your scooter is not an EPAMD. The key law governing EPAMD is that it’s “two wheels must not be operated in tandem” i.e. it can’t have wheels in a linear structure similar to a bicycle.
The distinction between an “electric powered bicycle” and an EPAMD is an important one. If you have more than two-wheels, that aren’t linear it’s an EPAMD. Electric skateboards, for example will fall under this category so the sidewalks are your playground. If you have linear wheels then you’re subject to the same restrictions a bicycle has, no sidewalks but no need for license and registration either.
Current Legislation & Looking Forward
Electric scooters tend to be more expensive than other forms of electric transport. They also tend to be the most powerful and advanced on the market. If you’re looking to make the investment, then check your state laws for guidance first. You can do this by visiting the US government home page and searching by state. Being given a fine is going to make your investment considerably more expensive so it’s worth doing the research. Not knowing is not an excuse as Canadian Daniel Darhlberg, who didn’t have grounds to appeal his fine, found out.
In the current legislation the laws on electric scooters are in something of a grey area. This makes knowing your rights even more important. If you’d like to conduct your own research, which is highly recommended. You can start by visiting the Light Electric Vehicle Association. They’ve acted as adviser for state legislation regarding electric vehicles and, if you can’t find information you’re looking for, you can contact them directly for specific queries.
Electric scooters are not considered motor vehicles and instead fall under consumer product laws. To find out the small details you can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to find specific federal laws about electric scooters- which are classified under “light electric bicycles”.
Anything that is more powerful than a light electric bicycle, with two in-tandem wheels, is automatically considered as a motor vehicle. You can find a break-down of federal laws here but, suffice it to say, you’ll be governed by the same laws as owning a motorized vehicle.
The electric vehicle industry is growing year on year. It’s in the interest of both individual states and government to encourage this growth so you can expect legislation to be friendly towards electric vehicles in future. From a personal perspective, they’re cheap to run, small enough to navigate city streets and provide a great alternative to traditional commuting methods.
The Bottom Line
The best way to think about your electric powered scooter is as a bicycle. You can ride on pathways, trails and streets provided they have cycle lanes. Sidewalks are strictly a no-go as you risk endangering pedestrians. Keep in mind that the type of vehicle is subject to different laws, so riding a Segway will have different rules to riding an electric scooter.
For most products you won’t need a license, registration or insurance but it’s always worth double checking with your local authority. Most product websites will just use the federal law to make claims that their product is street legal but, in your state you’ll be governed by state laws.
Highways are off limits for low-powered vehicles but I can’t imagine you’d want to ride on those anyway for common sense reasons. In short, stay safe, know your rights and never invest a significant amount of money on personal transport without first checking that its street legal.