Although electric scooters have been around since 1996, they have only recently flooded a number of large American cities. And the numbers are fairly impressive. Bird, the biggest player in the electric scooter rental market, has scooters in dozens of cities at an estimated value of $2 billion. With so many scooters entering the market (and surely that number will grow), it’s important to consider the operating and product quality standards that apply to this mode of transportation.
One of the most frequently asked questions about electric scooters is where you can drive the eScooter. Should you drive an electric scooter on the sidewalk, a bike lane, or with the general traffic? A fairly straightforward question, one that should have an equally straightforward answer, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The answer is . . . it depends.
Become Familiar With Your Local Laws. Electric Scooter Laws Vary From State to State.
We’ve talked before about the complexities of electric scooter laws in the U.S. You can take a look back at our previous article, “Are Electric Scooters Legal?”, for a detailed look on the subject. But let’s revisit the basics here, with some added bits:
- In California, you can only ride an electric scooter in a bike lane, or on the right-hand side of the road, next to the curb. You cannot ride an electric scooter on a sidewalk. Furthermore, if you are crossing an intersection, you must walk the scooter across.
- In Texas, you can ride an electric scooter on the road with the traffic, in the bike lane (if there is one available), or on the sidewalk. Riding on the road or using the bike lane are preferable over riding on the sidewalk. That said, in Austin, Texas there are some stretches of sidewalk that are off-limits to scooters, so do your research before you ride!
- In Colorado, riding an electric scooter on the sidewalk is the only option. The law considers an electric scooter to be a toy, and therefore scooters are prohibited from riding in a bike lane or with general traffic.
In Washington, DC, riding a scooter on a sidewalk is prohibited when a bike lane is available. You are however permitted to operate an electric scooter on any sidewalk that is overseen by the National Park Service. With such a mish-mash of rules and regulations involved with riding an eScooter, our final advice remains unchanged:
- Check the website of your state Department of Motor Vehicles first. You might be able to find information there, not only about state laws but also local municipalities. Larger cities such as NYC and San Francisco will also have info on the city website.
- If you can’t find it online, just ask the local police. It’s better to talk to them now on the phone rather than after they’ve handed you a citation!
General Laws and Full-Size Electric Scooters
With so much variety, the responsibility is on you to follow the law wherever you are. Fortunately, there are a few general laws that you can expect to be consistent from state to state. For example,
- You are not required to wear a helmet if you are 16 or older.
- At age 16, you are allowed to drive on a public road.
- You also cannot drive a full-sized electric scooter on a sidewalk or bike path.
- A full-sized electric scooter, also known as a street-legal scooter, can travel up to 65 miles per hour and is designed to drive on the road.
- If you are operating a scooter that is 50cc with a top speed of 30 miles per hour or higher, you are required to have a valid driver’s license.
- In addition, annual registration is frequently required for full-sized electric scooters.
Electric and Hand Signals
Whether you are riding your electric scooter on the road or the bike lane, it is important to communicate to other motorists around you. First, consider mounting turn signals on your handlebar. This type of turn signal looks very similar to those mounted on a motorcycle, where the light signal blinks when the rider flips a switch. Do a quick search online, and you’ll find a variety of turn signal models under $15 that are easy to install.
Be advised, not all models of electric scooter are easy to operate one-handed, so hand signals can be problematic. Electric signals are strongly advised in this case.
If you choose not to mount electric signals on your handlebar, then you should use gestures that indicate direction and intent.
- To signal that you are stopping, extend your left arm out and bend your arm down at the elbow.
- To signal a right-hand turn, extend your right arm perpendicular to your body. That is, point in the direction you are turning.
- To signal a left-hand turn, raise your left arm perpendicular to your body.