THE BIRD IS THE WORD. ELECTRIC SCOOTERS AND THE LAW.
Anyone who lives in the Westside of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Venice, San Diego or several other Metropolitan areas in California are becoming fast aware of the presence of hundreds, soon to be thousands, of motorized scooters, that have taken to the streets and bikelanes of Southern California.
THE BIRD, a brilliant innovation which utilizes similar technology as Uber, and in fact, was innovated by a former Uber Executive, provides GPS enabled electric scooters that can be used pretty much anywhere a user finds one, so long as the battery is operating. All that is required is an IPhone app, a valid California's Driver's License, a credit card and, apparently, a helmet.
While cities and counties are wrestling with this brash new transportation mode the law is catching up quickly. Recently the City of San Francisco banned Bird from operating until it receives proper permitting, and the City of Santa Monica has already brought litigation against the company over permitting.
As they say, you can't stop progress and in a city like Los Angeles, the Bird is here to say. It fills a much-needed hole in the cities evolving transportation revolution with a rail system that serves only a limited part of the city. The Bird has made getting from point A to Point B without need for a car ever more practical, and it's carbonless. While cities and law enforcement agencies wrestle with all the legal issues surrounding Bird, it is an almost surety that they are here to stay.
Yesterday on our way down to the Expo train line in the Westwood area of Los Angeles we headed down to Santa Monica and got our first glimpse of the Bird. We ended up motoring all the way back from Venice on the Expo bike path never having to get back on the train. If your battery dies, no problem, the App will simply find you a freshly charged scooter near you in the same way an Uber finds you. You just keep pushing on with a fresh Bird.
Today, motoring back to the beach on a Bird we got a fresh lesson on the law pertaining to motorized scooters when a portly Culver City Police Officer, conducted a complete traffic stop on us on the bike path while operating otherwise legally where he issued a citation to my friend for operating…..without a helmet. No courtesy warning. No friendly reminder. A court date.
After he put away his copy of the 2017 Vehicle Code he moved on to his next big scooter caper and we we went on our way. Most local cities are issuing warnings to riders. Bitter? Yes. Was he right? As it turns out he was so here it is, everything you should know about the laws as it pertains to the Bird and other electric scooters. We examine both the face of the scooter laws as well as other hypothetical legal issues that are sure to start hitting courthouses all across California.
Below is a comprehensive list of the applicable statutes:
California Vehicle Code §407.5(a)
A "motorized scooter" is 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. This device may also have a driver seat that does not interfere with the ability of the rider to stand and ride and may also be designed to be powered by human propulsion.
California Vehicle Code §21221 – Operation of Motorized Scooters
Every person operating a motorized scooter on a highway receives all the rights of and is subject to the same provisions applicable to any other driver of a vehicle.
These provisions include, but are not limited to, driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.
California Vehicle Code §21224 – Not Defined as a Motor Vehicle
Motorized scooters do not require registration; additionally, no insurance is required, and license plates do not have to be displayed.
California Vehicle Code §21225 – Local Regulations
However, as long as the regulations set forth by local authorities do not conflict with CVC §21224, local authorities have the right to regulate the registration of electric scooters, as well as the operation of and parking of electric scooters on:
- Local streets
- Pedestrian and bicycle facilities
California Vehicle Code §21229 – Operation of Electric Scooters in Bicycle Lanes
(a) Whenever there is a class II bicycle lane on a roadway, an individual operating a motorized scooter upon that roadway is to ride within the class II bicycle lane; except that the individual may move outside of the bicycle lane for any of the situations except:
- When passing a pedestrian or another vehicle within the lane; or when entering the lane if passing cannot be safely completed within the bicycle lane
- If preparing to turn left
- When necessary to avoid debris/hazardous conditions
- If approaching an area where making a right turn is authorized
(b) No individual operating an electric scooter is permitted to leave the bicycle lane unless it can be accomplished with reasonable safety and only after giving the appropriate signal in the event any vehicle could be affected by this movement (Chapter 6 §22100)
California Vehicle Code §21230
Electric scooters may be operated on a trail, bicycle path, or bikeway; however, if the governing body of a local agency or local authority has jurisdiction over a trail, path, or bikeway, these governing bodies may prohibit the operation of an electric scooter by ordinance.
Electric scooters are permitted on roads that do not have bicycle lanesas long as the speed limit for that road is no more than 25 mph. Unless turning left or passing, the scooter must be ridden close to the right hand curb.
An electric scooter may notbe operated on a sidewalk.
California Vehicle Code §21235 – Operation of Motorized Scooters: Prohibitions
An individual operating a motorized scooter is notpermitted to operate an electric scooter:
(a) Without a brake
(b) On a road/highway with a speed limit higher than 25 mph
(c) Without a fastened, properly fitted bicycle helmet meeting standards described in §21212
(d) Without a valid instruction permit or driver's license (any class)
(e) With passengers
(f) While carrying packages, articles, or bundles that keep him/her from having at least one hand on the handlebars
(g) On a sidewalk, unless necessary to leave or enter an adjacent property
(h) On a highway with raised handlebars requiring the operator to have his/her hands elevated above the shoulders
Additionally, the operator may not:
(i) Leave an electric scooter lying down on a sidewalk or park the scooter on a sidewalk in a position that blocks the path for pedestrians
(j) Attach the scooter or himself/herself to another vehicle while on the roadway
Insurance is not mandatory; however, individuals who own a motorized scooter may want to contact their insurance company to ask if insurance coverage is available.
What does it all mean in layman's terms? If you are riding a Bird or an electric scooter you had better have a valid California Driver's License, wear a helmet and be operating sober. In addition to violating the direct provisions applicable to scooters it is theoretically possible that overzealous police officers could cite an unlicensed driver with violating California Vehicle Code 12500, which is driving without a license or driving without a valid California License; the latter being a Misdemeanor.
Similarly, it is possible that someone with a suspended Driver's License for any purpose could be cited for Driving on a Suspended License or worse, arrested, if for instance the rider is operating while under the influence or while on probation for DUI. In my own practice I have represented individuals arrested for DUI for riding Bicycles with an affixed motor.
Whether these are valid arrests or defensible cases remains arguable. The question isn't whether it is a DUI, but whether some similarly over aggressive police officer might drag you in for it. It is more than possible. If you do not have a valid license. It's illegal. Period. Proving DUI might be difficult for the D.A, but the misery and money of having to hire counsel to defend yourself from it could be painful.
As Birds and other motorized scooters proliferate around California and probably the world, one should keep up on the ever-changing legal landscape attached to this new and world changing innovation.
Brian Michaels is a Criminal Defense Attorney and can be found on the web at www.exlaprosecutor.com