Mopeds aren’t just popular modes of transportation. They are a popular tourist attraction and a way for a visitor to see a destination from a different perspective: the road. What many moped renters don’t realize is they are actually renting a scooter, they might be in violation of local laws and they might not be covered by insurance.
Aren’t a scooter and a moped the same thing? No and this matters a lot because local laws might treat each one differently. They might require a license to drive or a certain level of insurance. In many places, no special license is required to drive a moped. The rules for scooters are typically more stringent.
Mopeds look like bicycles with a motor. They are generally two-wheeled vehicles with a 50 cubic centimeter (cc) engine or smaller and have functioning pedals. They also, by definition, have a top speed of no more than 30 miles per hour.
Scooters are basically a more powerful version of a moped but still aren’t nearly as powerful as a motorcycle. They have engines with 250cc or lower (motorcycles could have 250cc or more than 2,000cc) and scooter riders can usually place their feet flat in front of them while riding.
Vespas are commonly referred to as mopeds but they are actually scooters, which might be the reason so many tourists who rent them don’t wonder if they are doing so legally.
Anyone who is not properly licensed should not drive a scooter, whether they own or rent it. This is the most important thing to remember because it could have tremendous ramifications. No matter how many waivers or temporary insurance policies a tourist signs at a scooter rental, if they are not licensed to drive it, they will be operating it against the law, and any insurance claim could be denied.
Scooters aren’t tremendously expensive, so some tourists who are confident in their driving ability might consider renting one and taking a chance. That is highly ill-advised. The costs to replace a scooter might not scare a renter, but the medical costs and damages they might need to pay for if they hit someone should. No matter how careful a driver is, they cannot control others who might accidentally walk in front of them and cause a crash.
Tips For Renting A Moped Or Scooter
That doesn’t mean it’s unwise to rent mopeds or scooters while traveling. Moped and scooters are typically covered by motorcycle insurance policies. So if you have a license and are already insured, go for it.
If you have a license in compliance with local laws but aren’t sure whether your insurance policy will cover you, it might be best to play it safe. Purchase the protection offered by the rental company. Motorcycle insurance isn't cheap -- the average annual rate in the U.S. is $519 -- so the additional cost is worth protecting against the risks. Just make sure the moped or scooter company checks your license and that the company is legitimate.
Even if you’re traveling within the U.S. it’s important to be familiar with local laws – states and cities have different requirements to operate or insure certain vehicles. For example, in the state of New York, mopeds don’t require insurance, unless you are renting one.