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Mopeds, scooters and motorized bicycles are each defined and treated differently by California law. In California, scooters and motorized bikes can be operated on the road without being registered with the DMV, and you don’t need a motorcycle-specific license. Mopeds, on the other hand, need to be registered and the driver needs to carry a M1 or M2 license. You also need to have liability insurance to operate a moped on California roads.
California Motorized Scooter Laws
In California, a motorized scooter, also referred to as an electric scooter, is defined as having:
- Two wheels
- A floorboard that can be stood on while riding the scooter
- A motor that powers the vehicle
While a motorized scooter can have a driver’s seat, this isn’t a defining feature of a scooter under California law.
You can operate a scooter with any class of driver’s license in California; you don’t need a license specific to scooters, but you still need to have a driver’s license. And while motorized scooters are street-legal vehicles, they do not need to be registered with the DMV or carry license plates.
While on the road, motorized scooter riders need to obey the same traffic and safety laws as any other vehicle. However, there are also some scooter-specific restrictions in California:
- The driver needs to wear a U.S. Department of Transportation-compliant helmet at all times.
- Scooters can’t be ridden on roads with a speed limit greater than 25 miles per hour, unless there is a bike lane, in which case the scooter can only be ridden within it.
- As with other vehicles, motorized scooters should not be operated on sidewalks.
- There cannot be a passenger on scooters, just the driver.
- Motorized scooters shouldn’t be driven faster than 15 miles per hour on the road.
These regulations apply to standard motorized scooters. Mobility scooters, on the other hand, can be driven at up to 30 miles per hour on the road. However, this law only applies to mobility scooters operated by seniors or those with a physical disability.
California Mopeds Laws
A moped in California is a vehicle with the following characteristics:
- Two or three wheels. If your vehicle has four wheels, it will generally be considered a car or off-road vehicle.
- An electric motor and automatic transmission. A moped may also include pedals, if it’s not entirely propelled by its motor.
- The moped isn’t capable of being driven faster than 30 miles per hour on level ground.
Note, if your vehicle is referred to as a “moped,” but it doesn’t go faster than 20 miles per hour, it will likely be considered a motorized bicycle. A “noped” may qualify under different categories depending upon its maximum speed, so you should confirm potential requirements with the DMV if you’re unsure, before operating one on the road.
In order to drive a moped, you need to first have a motorcycle license, either M1 or M2, which should be carried while riding on public roads. You also need to register your moped with the DMV and obtain a license plate for it. Once you’ve registered your moped, there’s no annual renewal, this is a one-time process. When you register your moped, you’ll also receive a moped ID card, or registration card, which acts as your proof of ownership. You should also carry your moped ID card at all times when operating the moped.
Moped riders also need to wear an approved safety helmet when riding on public roads.
California Electric & Motorized Bicycle Laws
Electric bikes, are similar to mopeds but are distinct in how they’re treated by California law. A motorized bicycle is defined by having pedals, an electric motor with fewer than 750 watts. There are three different classes of electric bikes:
- Class 1 electric bicycle: A bicycle with an electric motor that activates when the rider is pedaling and deactivates when they reach 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2 electric bicycle: A bicycle with an electric motor that can be used to propel the bike without the rider pedaling. The motor cannot be capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3 electric bicycle: A bicycle with a pedal-assist electric motor equipped with a speedometer, that ceases to provide power when the rider reaches 28 miles per hour. You must be at least 16 years old to operate class 3 electric bicycles.
Electric bicycles are street-legal in California, but you don’t need a license or registration in order to operate one on the road. However, electric bicycle riders must wear a DOT-approved safety helmet if they are under the age of 18 or are operating a class three electric bike. In addition, electric bikes can only be ridden by one person at a time—you can’t carry passengers.
Other Motorized Vehicles
There are a few additional classes of motorized vehicles, some of which are street-legal in California.
|Motorcycles||A motorcycle is defined as a vehicle with two or three wheels and an engine which is greater than 150 cubic centimeters in size. To ride a motorcycle in California, you typically must have an M1 motorcycle license, carry proof of insurance, and wear a DOT-approved helmet. However, if your motorcycle has three wheels or a sidecar, you only need a Class C license.|
|Motor-Driven Cycle||A motor-driven cycle is similar to a motorcycle, but it has an engine that is 149 cubic centimeters or less in size, so it can’t be driven in a freeway. Motor-driven cycles must be registered with the DMV, and you need to have an M1 motorcycle license in order to operate one.|
|Dirt Bike||Many dirt bikes aren’t considered to be street-legal in California, however, some do qualify to be registered and receive license plates. To determine if your dirt bike qualifies, you should call the DMV.|
|Mini Bikes||Mini bikes, also referred to as pocket bikes or mini motorcycles, are not street-legal in California.|
Do You Need Insurance for a Moped or Scooter in California?
You aren’t required to carry insurance in order to operate a motorized scooter in California—this coverage is entirely optional.
However, mopeds come with the same insurance requirements as motorcycles. In order to ride a moped in California, you need to carry liability insurance with at least $15,000 of bodily injury coverage per person, $30,000 of bodily injury coverage per accident and $5,000 of property damage coverage per accident.
In addition, if you’ve leased or financed your moped, you may be required to carry additional forms of insurance coverage in order to meet your lender’s requirements.