Scooters Are Everywhere! Are They Legal?
Michael Rubinstein, Esq.
Scooters: You’ve seen them. They’re all over the place. And every day, more and more of them are showing up out of nowhere.
Scooters are making a comeback in a big way in Los Angeles and beyond. Bird Scooters, the startup recently valued at $2 billion, has its headquarters in Santa Monica, just a stone’s throw from Los Angeles. Bird and Lime Scooters are competing for your feet as you navigate the streets of Los Angeles.
What many people probably don’t know is that strict laws govern the use of these electric scooters. My office has received calls about Los Angeles scooter accidents, and I’m concerned that many riders do not realize the risks they are taking and the rights they are waiving when they hop on.
For example, Bird Scooter’s rental agreement requires the rider to certify that he/she is 18 years old. While this is not a problem in and of itself, I can personally attest that I’ve seen scores of teenagers younger than 18 riding around on scooters. If a rider under 18 is injured, you can bet that Bird will point the blame at the rider for violating Bird’s rental agreement in this regard. I also wouldn’t put it past Bird to argue that sidewalk scooter accident claims should be barred because California law forbids motorized scooter riding on sidewalks. (More on that below.)
Additionally, Bird’s rental agreement includes a liability waiver that every rider is supposed to read before using the scooter. The waiver releases Bird from any and all liability for injuries or death stemming from scooter use. I’m willing to bet that most riders do not read the agreement. While not reading the agreement is probably not a defense to electronically signing the agreement—which every rider must do before riding—I believe that thousands of people are riding these scooters unaware that they are waiving their right to hold Bird accountable for potential injuries sustained while riding the scooter.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know is going to hop on a Bird or Lime Scooter, here are some laws that apply to operators of electric or motorized scooters in California.
- HELMETS ARE REQUIRED.
California Vehicle Code Section 21235 requires an operator of a motorized scooter to wear a helmet. Bird Scooter’s safety page encourages riders to wear them, but it doesn’t state that California law requires it.
- DRIVER’S LICENSE IS REQUIRED.
CVCS 21235 requires the operator of an electric scooter to maintain a valid California Driver license or instruction permit.
- SIDEWALK RIDING IS ILLEGAL!
This is a big one. 21235 makes it illegal to operate a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. The scooter must be used in the bicycle lane. Note that this differs from bicycle riding on the sidewalk, which, depending on what city you’re in, could be lawful.
- SPEED LIMITS
Motorized scooters cannot be operated at speeds above 15 mph, and they cannot be operated on streets with speed limits above 25 mph.
- NO RIDING WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL
California Vehicle Code Section 21221.5 makes it illegal to operate an electric or motorized scooter while under the influence of alcohol.
- CANNOT ABANDON SCOOTER ON SIDEWALK
It’s illegal to leave a motorized scooter lying on its side on the sidewalk or parked in a way that impedes the flow of pedestrian traffic.
As you can tell, many laws apply to scooter riders in California. My office will continue to monitor these developments, and I’m afraid we’ll also continue to receive calls about Los Angeles scooter accidents.