As dockless bike share startups expand across the Bay Area, a new mode of shared mobility has emerged: electric scooters. With tons of cash in hand, Lime-S and Bird have big plans for expansion in the Bay Area. Dozens of Bird and Lime-S scooters recently landed in Oakland and San Francisco. Both cost $1 per ride plus $0.15 per mile and travel at speeds up to 15 mph.
However, there’s a catch. Motorized scooters are much more heavily regulated than bikes in California, and violating these laws could result in sizeable fines. Riders may not be aware of the risks they assume when going for a joy ride.
The California Vehicle Code (CVC 21235) defines several restrictions to which riders of motorized scooters may be in violation, including riding on streets with speed limits greater than 25 mph, riding without a helmet or driver’s license, and riding or parking on a sidewalk:
“The operator of a motorized scooter shall not do any of the following:
(a) Operate a motorized scooter on a highway with a speed limit in excess of 25 miles per hour unless the motorized scooter is operated within a class II bicycle lane.
(b) Operate a motorized scooter without wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards described in Section 21212.
(c) Operate a motorized scooter without a valid driver’s license or instruction permit.
(d) Operate a motorized scooter upon a sidewalk, except as may be necessary to enter or leave adjacent property.
(e) Leave a motorized scooter lying on its side on any sidewalk, or park a motorized scooter on a sidewalk in any other position, so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.”
Lime-S discloses some of these restrictions on the scooters themselves, though some are worded as suggestions (“please wear helmet”) rather than laws. Other key restrictions are omitted altogether, including rules against operating a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. Bird similarly discloses these restrictions in their app, and is providing free helmets to riders upon request. The CVC allows cities flexibility in setting their own local ordinances governing motorized scooters, but we are not aware of any Bay Area jurisdictions that have their own ordinances.
Unsurprisingly, it seems like most Lime-S and Bird riders violate the law, including those shown on its own website. Riding without helmets on sidewalks is the norm. This could be a costly mistake. While electric scooters remain relatively under the radar in the Bay Area given their small numbers, a backlash in Santa Monica has prompted a police crackdown: officers are beginning to distribute $190 tickets for any of the above violations. San Francisco may commence a permit program for their operation to better enforce these laws.
Shared electric scooters show promise in providing convenient car-free mobility, but their rollout is going to be messy under California’s current laws. Moreover, a large volume of electric scooters could wreak havoc on street safety if used improperly: riding on sidewalks is not only dangerous for pedestrians, but also dangerous for scooter users given the potential for right-hook crashes with vehicles. As tempting as it is to revive childhood memories of Razor scooters, it’s best to avoid using Lime-S or Bird scooters in restricted areas and without a helmet.