There are 7 important traffic laws that apply to electric scooters in California. They require electric scooter, or E-scooter, riders to:
- 1. Wear a helmet if they are under 18 years old,
- 2. Ride at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour,
- 3. Use bike lanes where available,
- 4. Ride alone, off the sidewalk, and with a valid driver's license,
- 5. Dismount and walk for left turns,
- 6. Abide by crosswalk regulations, and
- 7. Follow all the rules that apply to motor vehicles.
1. Minors have to wear helmets (California Vehicle Code §21235(c))
California Vehicle Code (CVC) §21235 was specifically written for E-scooters. One of the sections in it requires riders under 18 to use a bike helmet while on an E-scooter. That bike helmet has to fit properly. It also has to be fastened.
Adults do not have to comply with this requirement. They can ride E-scooters without wearing a helmet. E-scooter companies like Lime and Bird recommend only riding with a helmet. Riding without one is often done at your own risk.
Violating this section of the Vehicle Code can lead to a ticket of around $200. The vast majority of E-scooter tickets had been for not wearing a helmet before it was made legal in 2019.1
2. Maximum speed is 15 mph (CVC §22411)
CVC §22411 puts a speed limit on E-scooters. That speed limit is 15 miles per hour. Going over this speed limit can result in a traffic stop and a ticket. That ticket can cost up to $250.
E-scooter sharing companies like Lime and Bird build their scooters to only go up to 15mph. However, fully accelerating and going downhill can make the scooter go faster.
3. Use bike lanes (CVC §21229)
CVC §21229 requires E-scooters be ridden in bike lanes whenever one is available.
The traffic law refers to a “Class II bicycle lane.” This type of bicycle lane is on the right edge of a street and has a solid white line on each side. It usually has a bicycle symbol inside the white borders. It only facilitates one-way riding.
The law only allows for 4 exceptions to riding in a Class II bike lane:
- While passing another vehicle or pedestrian,
- When completing a left hand turn,
- To avoid debris or other hazards in the bike lane, or
- When turning right.
4. No tandem rides, stay off the sidewalks, and have a valid license (CVC §21235)
In addition to requiring E-scooter riders to wear a helmet, CVC §21235 forbids:
- Riding with a passenger on the scooter (also known as a “tandem ride”),2
- Riding an E-scooter on the sidewalk,3 and
- Driving an E-scooter without having a valid drivers' license.4
The only time you are allowed to ride an E-scooter on the sidewalk is to park the scooter or get a parked scooter onto the street.
CVC§21235 allows people to ride an E-scooter with a valid learner's permit, in addition to a drivers' license.
Violations are penalized with traffic tickets. Those tickets are usually around $200.
5. Dismount and walk for left hand turns (CVC §21228)
CVC §21228 is an especially onerous traffic rule for E-scooter riders. It forces E-scooters to turn left by:
- Stopping after the intersection on the right curb,
- Dismounting, and
- Crossing the roadway on foot.
6. Crosswalk rules (CVC §275)
CVC §275 defines a crosswalk. At street intersections that are approximately right angles, crosswalks are technically sidewalks under this definition.
Under CVC §21235(g), it is a traffic violation to ride an E-scooter on a sidewalk. Therefore, it is also a violation to ride one in a crosswalk. Doing so can lead to a traffic ticket of around $200.
7. E-scooters have to follow traffic rules like a motor vehicle (CVC §21221)
CVC §21221 is a kind of “catch-all” traffic law for E-scooters. It says that E-scooters have all the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle. The only exception is where those rights or responsibilities “by their very nature, can have no application.”
This traffic provision makes specific mention of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drunk E-scootering can lead to a DUI charge, as well as a traffic ticket of around $350.
Lauryn Schroeder, “Motorized scooter tickets leap in San Diego,” The San Diego Union-Tribune (February 3, 2019).