Nothing says freedom like zipping along Orange County’s sunny city streets on an E-scooter. More ecologically friendly than a motorcycle and so much easier to park than a car, E-scooters make a great transportation choice for people who need to get themselves from Point A to Point B inside a city.
But just because E-scooters are a popular commuting choice for students and anyone else who needs a simple transit option, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules you have to follow.
Micromobility is all the rage in California now, but with freedom comes responsibility. If you aren’t too sure about the rules and regulations covering E-scooters in California, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to find out the laws you need to know about in order to use your e-scooter in California.
What’s an E-Scooter?
E-scooters are electrically powered self-propelled vehicles that seat (or stand) a single person. Since they’re self-propelled (meaning you’re providing the power by pedaling or pushing with your foot, or with a small electric motor), they do meet the legal requirements to be classified as motor vehicles (at the other end of the spectrum are bikes and scooters, which have no ability to move on their own).
Did You Know? The first scooter that didn’t rely on foot power to move was built in 1915!
What’s the Law?
California Vehicle Code, Sections 21220 through 21235 cover motorized scooters, which your e-scooter falls under. These fourteen laws are what stand between you and whether or not you participate in the California’s rules of the road safely.
Here’s a quick and easy reference for you to use:
- VEH§21220: California Legislative declaration of intent to “add this article to promote the use of alternative low-emission or no-emission transportation.
- VEH§21220.5: Sets forth the definition of motorized scooter.
- VEH§21221: Concerning operating a motorized scooter under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
- VEH§21221.5: Concerning arrests for DUI and testing.
- VEH§21223: About the safety equipment required to operate a motorized scooter at night.
- VEH§21224: Concerning license plate requirements and registration
- VEH§21225: Sets forth local authority’s ability to regulate scooter traffic
- VEH§21226: Regulates the sale of second-hand motorized scooters
- VEH§21227: States that a motorized scooter must have brakes
- VEH§21228: Where and how to ride a motorized scooter, including how to make a right-hand turn and avoid debris in the lane
- VEH§21229: Where and how to ride in the bicycle lane, including how to make a left turn
- VEH§21230: States that a motorized scooter may be operated on a pathway or trail unless a local agency with jurisdiction says otherwise.
- VEH§21235: What you cannot do when you operate a motorized scooter
- VEH§22411: The stated maximum speed a motorized scooter can go.
See VEHICLE CODE – VEH DIVISION 11. RULES OF THE ROAD [21000 – 23336] ARTICLE 5. Operation of Motorized Scooters [21220 – 21235]
What does that all mean for you? Let’s look at the breakdown.
The Law and Safely Using Your E-Scooter
Just like a regular motor vehicle, there are rules governing where, how, when, and who can legally operate an e-scooter. Let’s take a look at some questions you might have and give you the answers (and the applicable section of the law so you’re in the know).
Where are E-Scooters allowed to drive?
E-scooters occupy that odd middle ground between motorcycles (smaller than cars, but still capable of self-propulsion) and bicycles (another single-occupant vehicle, but without that crucial motor thingy). Because of that, and their generally small profile, they get to share space on the road with the bikes over in the cycling lane. They are street legal but are generally supposed to use the bike lanes (either class).
E-scooters can only drive on roads that have posted speed limits of 25 mph.
Pro-Tip: Watch your speed! E-scooters are only allowed to go a maximum of 15 miles per hour. Most e-scooter motors top out at 15 mph (some stop at 14.9 mph for safety), so speed usually isn’t an issue unless you’re buying someone’s secondhand modified scooter.
California Law: VEH§21235, Section B
How old do you have to be to drive an e-scooter in California?
The good news is that you can drive an e-scooter at 18. Heck, you can even drive one at 16! (A valid learner’s permit will get you moving on your own two wheels). Since an e-scooter is more budget-friendly than even a basic car, it’s an easy choice for new drivers.
California Law: VEH§21235, Section D
Do you need a license to drive a e-scooter?
Yes! A license is a must (but if you don’t have one yet, a valid learner’s permit is also allowed). Any valid license is okay, of any class. So, if your second ride is a truck or a motorcycle, you’re still covered.
California Law: VEH§21235, Section D
Do you need insurance to ride an e-scooter?
This might surprise you.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Technically, there’s no legal requirement to have specific insurance for your e-scooter. However, you do need a license (or learner’s permit) to drive one, and one of the conditions of having a license in California is carrying basic insurance, so while you don’t need “scooter insurance,” your basic liability insurance will cover you.
California Law: VEH§21224
Do you have to wear a helmet while operating an E-scooter?
Riding an e-scooter will require you to wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet… if you’re under 18.
Remember, you are legally allowed to drive one at 16 with a learner’s permit. Normally, any driver with a learner’s permit can’t drive without an adult in the car, but on an e-scooter, that’s not possible.
California law: VEH§21235, Section C
How fast do e-scooters go?
E-scooters have a top speed of a whopping 15 miles per hour. Some rideshare companies that rent e-scooters keep their motor power to just below that threshold. That’s the limit their motor can manage, and it’s really the safest thing, since you’re generally riding standing up and with nothing between you and the ground other than that helmet you’re wearing.
Remember, your motor might only be able to go 15 mph, but when you’re going downhill, you’ll end up going faster than that speed limit. If you get pulled over, you risk a speeding ticket.
California law: VEH§22411
Where can I ride an e-scooter?
E-scooters can be ridden in Class II and Class III bike lanes on any street where the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour or lower.
For normal travel, you need to keep to the posted bike lane, until you need to make a left turn. That’s when you need to stop at the nearest convenient corner, dismount, and walk your scooter across the lanes on the appropriate light.
California law: VEH§ 21228, VEH§ 21229
What Safety Equipment does my E-scooter Need?
E-scooters must have a brake that will allow riders to perform a braked wheel skid on dry, level ground. No Fred Flintstone stops here!
To operate in low-light or evening conditions, an e-scooter must be equipped with a white front light that can be seen 300 feet from the front and sides of the scooter. It must also have a red reflector on the rear that reflects headlights from up to 500 feet away, and white or yellow reflectors that are visible on the sides.
A headlamp worn by the operator and a red reflector worn on the back of the operator’s jacket can fulfil those requirements.
California law: VEH§21223
Can e-scooters be driven on sidewalks?
Nope! (Although you’ve probably seen people do this) The only time an e-scooter can be driven on a sidewalk is when you’re entering or exiting a parking lot.
Remember, an e-scooter is a motor vehicle. Sidewalks are off-limits to you (except in some localities where authorities know it’s too dangerous for a bike or scooter to share the road with cars).
Always check local ordinances before you start riding because laws can and do change. Obey all posted signs.
California law: VEH§212235, section g
Can I take a passenger on my e-scooter?
E-scooters are only designed for a single rider. They’re a commuter’s best friend or a student’s way to get around the old “going uphill both ways to school” joke. While they’re a safe, economical, and environmentally friendly way to get around town, they are absolutely not made to carry more than one person.
California law: VEH§212235, section e
Can I bring packages on my e-scooter?
Passengers may be a no, but packages are actually a yes… with some rules attached (what, you thought there weren’t rules about this?).
As long as the package is in a backpack or under only one arm or in one hand, you can still legally drive your e-scooter.
Remember, your e-scooter is a board over a couple of wheels and driven by a motor. You need to have at least one hand free to drive. If you can’t manage your package with only one hand, you should find another way to get it home.
California law: VEH§212235, section f
Can You get a DUI while Driving an E-Scooter?
We mentioned it before in the basics section, but it’s good to repeat since California views e-scooters as motor vehicles, operating one while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will end up with you getting a ticket.
However… California has a special statute for motorized scooters, which e-scooters qualify as. Operating an e-scooter under the influence of drugs or alcohol falls under Code 21221.5, which classifies a conviction under this statute as an infraction.
Pro-Tip: operating anything with wheels and a motor while under the influence is a bad idea.
California law: Vehicle Code section 21221.5
How Do I Rent an E-scooter?
If you want to buy your E-scooter, they can run anywhere from the low hundreds to a thousand dollars. They’re readily available from most online and big box stores. With a price tag so low, it’s no wonder that they’re becoming a very popular choice with people who commute from work to school within a single city.
If you’d like to try out an e-scooter without a commitment to buy, there are always local rental places and services that will put you on the deck of a shiny new e-scooter with a minimum of fuss. Just remember to read the rules of operating, parking, and docking, and you’ll be good to go.
Pro-Tip: Always obey the posted signs in certain areas, like beaches, and certain communities, which have different rules for e-scooter access, or may not allow it at all.
App-based Lime-S lets you locate, rent and operate a snazzy new Lime-S e-scooter within local communities. All you need to do is download the app, follow the simple directions, and you’re good to go. (No credit card? No problem! Lime allows you to pay in cash at any participating CVS or 7-11 or use their text-to-unlock feature in case you don’t have a smartphone).
Lime cautions all riders to obey all traffic laws and wear a helmet (which Lime provides). Their distinctive white and green scooters will go a maximum of roughly 20 miles on a single battery.
Where to find Lime in California: You can find Lime e-scooters to rent in Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, Santa Barbara, San Jose, and San Francisco. If the Lime program isn’t in your city or on your college campus, you can vote for it to include where you live and work by clicking here.
The other big player in the e-scooter scene is micromobility expert Bird, which provides e-bike rentals along with e-scooter rentals. (Parents, take note: Bird offers kid-sized kick scooters for rental!)
Just download the app, provide the necessary details, and you’re off.
Where to find Bird in California: San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Monica, San Jose, Bakersfield, and Sacramento. You can also request the program in your city by contacting Bird Support here.
Lyft, that rideshare standard, has expanded to the e-scooter market. Los Angeles and San Diego both have options for scooter rental. Just update your Lyft app to the latest edition and check to see where you can pick up a low-cost rental scooter that will have you moving and grooving along.
Lyft advises that you reserve an e-scooter before you need to travel and offers some handy features, like locking your scooter while you’re not traveling so that you’re charged a smaller per-minute rate. The Lyft Driver Center has free helmets if you need one (Monday – Friday 9AM-5PM), and they offer a discount code if you want to buy your own.
Where to find Lyft in California: Currently, Lyft’s e-scooter market is only available in LA and San Diego. They also operate on the UCLA campus. All locations are available on the Lyft app. Check the FAQ for places that e-scooters are not allowed.
The other rideshare giant, Uber, also has a presence in the e-scooter market. To find and rent a snazzy solo ride from Uber, just tap “ride” at the top of your app and follow the prompts. You can choose to reserve a scooter or bike, or you can unlock one you happen to see as you walk by.
While e-scooters will never be able to replace the sheer carrying capacity of your average minivan – or even a small car – they open up travel options for a lot of people. If you need a simple way to get from point A to point B, an e-scooter might be just the thing for you.
E-scooters are a low cost, low impact way to make transportation easy. They’re going to be a part of the urban landscape for the foreseeable future, and with rideshares popping up all over California, there’s no reason to not try one out.
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.