New modes of transportation have been popping up all over the place thanks to incredible developments in lithium-ion battery and electric motor technology. These include electric bikes, innovative modern electric scooters like Unagi, as well as the shared scooters clustered in packs on college campuses and in city centers. Scooters have caught on not because they are a fad but because they fit such a range of needs. Like skateboards, they are nimble, portable, and fit in small spaces. Like bikes, they can achieve relatively high speeds and have stable means of steering and braking.
Electric scooters are so versatile, in fact, that they have caused confusion and controversy. Do they belong on the sidewalk or on the road? Can you ride them in traffic or should you avoid it? Should scooters be relegated to bike lanes? Do laws prohibit riding an electric scooter on the road? Do you need insurance to ride an electric scooter? How can you stay safe on the road? These are excellent questions. While electric scooters inarguably provide one of the most efficient ways to get around on short trips, safety should always come first.
You might be surprised to learn, however, that in most cases, riding your scooter on the road is not only allowed, but is recommended and sometimes required in places that prohibit scooters on the sidewalk. You’ll need to check local laws to find out if this is the case where you ride, but electric scooters are generally classed as street legal vehicles, provided they do not exceed certain speeds, typically between 15 and 20 miles per hour, and have a motor power of less than 750 watts. Almost all electric scooters have motors of either 250 or 350 watts. However, in the Unagi E500’s unusual case, there are motors in each wheel, giving the Unagi its characteristic ride quality and hill conquer-ability.
Rules and Safety Guidelines of the Road
Even where riding on the road is allowed, you’ll want to use good judgment to keep yourself and those around you safe and stick to designated bike lanes wherever possible. Some states, like California, require scooter riders to stay close to the right-hand curb, and the vehicles are only allowed on roads with speed limits of 25 miles per hour or less unless there is a designated bike lane. These rules offer good guidelines for safely riding an electric scooter on the road wherever you are.
When it comes to riding an electric scooter on the road, it’s best to stick to slower streets and residential areas as much as possible. Avoid high traffic areas and roads with highway speeds. As speeds increase, so does the likelihood and the severity of accidents, as scooter riders can be as vulnerable as cyclists in traffic. Riding on the sidewalk may be the only option in areas of very high traffic or roads with highway speeds (for more on how to handle sidewalks, read here). In general, however, riders should be able to find routes that take them around major roads and busy intersections. This exploration is part of the fun!
Riding an electric scooter is a great way to discover parts of your city you may have never seen before. The groundswell of new personal mobility vehicles on the road has prompted city transportation authorities to create many more slow speed streets in major cities to accommodate pedestrians, pets, bikes, skateboards, and scooters. Moreover, Google and other mapping apps are making it easier to plan a route by scooter. You can search for slow streets and choose options under cycling routes to find bike paths and bike lanes. This is not only a great way to stay safe, but slo to get off the beaten path and to rediscover your surroundings.
There’s more to safety than planning your route and avoiding high-speed traffic. It’s also essential when riding on the road to obey all traffic laws, wear proper safety equipment, and to clearly signal your intentions to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and other scooter riders. Most electric scooters are (or should be) equipped with headlights, taillights, and brake lights for visibility. Scooters also typically have horns or bells that can alert others, but these will not be heard by drivers, so scooter riders should not rely on them in car traffic.
Because of the basic design of the electric scooter, its lights are not always easily visible to drivers. Therefore, it’s also best practice to use hand signals when you plan to turn or stop and to make sure to ride defensively. Hand signals are more difficult on scooters, but slowing down or briefly stepping off are each easier. Making sure to look over one’s shoulder can also go a long way. Communicating with others on the road and making sure that they can see you--and that you see them--can make all the difference in whether you have a safe, pleasant ride or a stressful, unsafe one. On the road, it’s best to always keep in mind that in any contest between car and scooter, the car will always win. Give both drivers and pedestrians a wide berth and avoid areas of high speed and high traffic as much as possible.
Like rules of the road, the requirements for riding an electric scooter can vary from state to state and city to city. In most cases, riders will not need a driver’s license, registration, or insurance to ride a scooter on the road, but as always, you’ll want to check with your local department of motor vehicles to clarify the laws where you are. Internationally, these requirements will also vary widely, and can change from state to state within each country. In the UK, for example, scooters were only recently allowed on public roads in certain cities as part of a pilot program rolled out last summer, and requirements for riding are strict. Other countries, like Japan, require riders to register their vehicles, possess a valid driver’s license, and have insurance.
Whatever the laws are where you live, it’s important to always keep in mind that riding an electric scooter on the roads always carries with it certain risks, and these rise significantly in areas of high speed and dense traffic with low visibility. It is the responsibility of each individual rider to stay alert, wear proper safety equipment, and signal clearly to drivers. Additionally, despite their small size and relatively low power, scooters also pose a danger to others on the road. Riders can injure pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers in accidents they might cause through carelessness or inattention. Electric scooters are marvelous devices that can solve a host of transportation problems. They are also serious, street legal vehicles and should always be ridden with an eye toward keeping oneself and others safe.