The use of electric scooters has exploded in the past few years, with scooter sharing companies popping up around the country. Electric scooters are affordable, easy to use, and often environment-friendly, so it’s easy to see why they’re so popular. But along with this growth comes growing pains. Cities are still deciding how to regulate electric scooters, and riders and non-riders alike are figuring out how to safely share the road (or the sidewalk). Electric scooters can be dangerous for pedestrians, and can play a part in car accidents. Before you hop onto an electric scooter, here are a few things to think about.
There's no universal answer to this question. For example, California treats electric scooters with its own distinct set of laws. There is no insurance or registration requirement for electric scooters, although local authorities may require registration. For the most part, riders cannot use their electric scooters on California streets with a posted speed limit greater than 25 miles per hour, unless a local law says otherwise.
In Virginia, an electric scooter is not defined as a "motor vehicle." They're in their own category. Electric scooters cannot travel faster than 20 miles per hour and must weigh less than 100 pounds. Also, riders under 14 can only operate an electric scooter under adult supervision. Generally speaking, electric scooters can operate on public roads and sidewalks in Virginia, although municipalities have the authority to prohibit the use of electric scooters in certain areas.
Kentucky treats electric scooters like bicycles in most traffic-related situations. This means electric scooters can operate on public streets, with no insurance or registration requirements. It also allows users to ride electric scooters without helmets.
That's often dictated by local law. In Kentucky's Lexington-Fayette County, use of electric scooters on sidewalks is prohibited.
With this diverse legal framework, electric scooter riders will need to do their own research for their specific state and local jurisdiction. Many electric scooter companies (like Lime and Bird) set their own rules for use, typically requiring that a scooter operator:
This is another evolving area of law that's specific to locality. California recently relaxed its helmet laws so that adult riders of electric scooters aren't required to wear one. Electric scooter companies themselves seem to be straddling the line somewhat. Bird's website currently states that the company "encourages all riders to wear a helmet when riding," but Bird also lobbied for the new California law.
When it comes to liability for an accident, the at-fault party is usually financially responsible for any resulting damages or injuries. That's a basic personal injury law concept, and accidents involving electric scooters are no different. But what’s unique about electric scooters is that there may not be the usual avenues of financial recovery.
If you’re involved in a car accident with another driver, you can potentially recover monetary compensation from the other driver’s car insurance company, or from your car insurance company (if you caused the car accident). If you get into a car accident that involves a rental vehicle, you may be able to recover against an insurance policy offered through the rental company. But with electric scooters, things can be very different.
Some electric scooter companies (such as Lime or Spin) specifically claim they have no liability arising from any accidents related to use of their scooters or services. While this may or may not hold up in court, it serves as a legal hurdle for anyone who believes an electric scooter company is at least partially responsible for an accident. What if the electric scooter experiences a malfunction that causes an accident, for example.
Then there’s the issue of insurance. If you're involved in an electric scooter accident and there’s no scooter rental company to hold responsible, then some or all of the injuries and other losses (damages) might be your financial responsibility, even if you’re not the cause of the accident.
If you’re operating an electric scooter and find yourself in an accident, there are several types of insurance that could come into play. Keep in mind that not all of these options are guaranteed to provide the coverage you need.
Before riding an electric scooter, make sure you're familiar with local laws and company rules concerning safe and legal operation, and figure out if you have (or want to obtain) insurance coverage in case you get into an accident.