You’ve seen them all over your city’s streets, and everyone who rides one looks absolutely thrilled. So, why haven’t you picked up your own folding electric scooter yet? Maybe you’re worried about whether e-scooters require a driver’s license, or a specialized license like motorcycles? Maybe you don’t have a driver’s license. Can you still ride an electric scooter, shared or otherwise?
As with most such questions, the answer is “it depends,” but in many cases it’s “yes!” This is actually one of the special benefits of micromobility as a mode of transportation, especially with regard to cities that seek to equitably provide transportation for all and optimize for effectively moving people through our world, instead of cars.
Whether or not you’ll need a driver’s license depends primarily on where you’ll be riding your scooter. Every state in the U.S. and many countries and regions in the world have found their own way to define the legal parameters for electric scooters, a form of transportation that didn’t exist as a viable option just a few short years ago. While e-scooter laws around the U.S. are becoming somewhat more standardized, there are still a number of differences from state to state.
First, we need to define what we mean by motorized electric scooter. The term can mean a number of things, from folding scooters like Unagi’s Model One to two-wheeled seated scooters that are more moped-like and have more powerful motors and larger batteries. For the purposes of California law, a “motorized scooter” is defined as “any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, has a floorboard that is designed to be stood upon when riding, and is powered by an electric motor.” Other small motorized vehicles are classed as motorcycles, mopeds, or motorized bicycles, depending on their construction, weight, and motor size.
Currently, in the state of California the law requires that riders of electric scooters possess a valid driver’s license and that scooters not exceed speeds of 15 mph. California has approached electric scooter laws with a level of detail not found in most states’ legislation. The question of whether or not you will need a driver’s license in other places will generally depend upon how your state classes electric scooters, and that can vary widely.
The answer, on the whole, is no, you will not need a license to ride a scooter in the U.S.
Many states classify electric scooters with electric bicycles, which do not require a driver’s license to operate. Some localities classify scooters with mopeds and other street legal vehicles that do require a valid driver’s license to operate. To cover their bases, share companies like Bird and Lime generally require that their riders be at least 18 years of age and have a valid license, but these are company policies, not state or federal law.
In the state of New York, electric scooters can be ridden on roads and bike lanes if they have a top speed of no more than 20 mph. Scooters are categorized as Class C vehicles and riders are not required to have a driver’s license to operate them. The law makes e-scooters a particularly convenient choice for New Yorkers, many of whom do not drive and have no reason to get a driver’s license.
Outside of California, U.S. states generally do not require a driver’s license to operate an electric scooter, but as with all such legal questions, it is wise to check your local state and city laws before you purchase or lease a scooter of your own.
International Scooter Laws
Elsewhere in the world, laws can also vary widely.
The UK has only just begun trials for electric scooters on city streets. Riders can rent shared scooters but cannot yet ride private scooters on public roads. Electric scooters are classified as motor vehicles, and so all riders must have a valid driver’s license and be over the age of 16 to ride them.
Australia’s laws vary by state and territory. In both Queensland and Victoria, you will need a license to ride an electric scooter.
Scooter laws in Japan are strict: In addition to license plates, insurance, and registration, scooter riders must also have a valid motorcycle license.
Canada’s scooter laws vary by province, state, and city. In most provinces, you can ride an electric scooter without a license, though minimum age requirements apply, but some places do require a driver’s license.
The laws around electric scooter riding are constantly evolving. At least in the U.S. (California excepted), the answer to the question ”do you need a driver’s license to ride an electric scooter?” is, “no, you don’t.” But that answer can depend on how each state and locality defines an electric scooter, and it can change from one legislative session to the next. To be on the safe side, always check your local laws to be sure.
The positive news for prospective and existing Unagi riders is that over the first 3 years of the meteoric rise of folding electric scooters in the world, regulatory bodies seem to have been shifting toward regulating small forms of micromobility (like scooters) differently than larger vehicles like mopeds and motorcycles. Governments love how they aid to achieve equitable transportation goals (since many cannot afford a car, gas, parking, and auto insurance), as well as drastically reduce carbon footprints with vehicles that are human-sized and electric. And they’re easier to operate and straight up fun.