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
DISCLAIMER: This page is provided as help only and does not constitute legal advice. The information in this article may not be comprehensive or current. You are solely responsible for knowing and obeying the laws which pertain to you.
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.