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A Lawyer Explains Why Electric Scooter Laws Don’t Work

Bird, Lime, and other shared micromobility services are disrupting the legal landscape, too.  
So far, the e-scooter has been nimble enough to avoid all kinds of legal potholes.
So far, the e-scooter has been nimble enough to avoid all kinds of legal potholes.Amanda Morris/AP

In 2018, in what appeared to be more of a sociology experiment than a transportation innovation, rentable electric scooters landed on American streets. These mobile memes swiftly spread nationwide, captivating and confounding citizens, the media, and government officials alike. Some places welcomed the curious new arrivals; other city representatives decried scooters as interlopers and subjected them to outright bans and impoundment.

Dockless scooters continue to expand into new markets, and their rollouts are now often coordinated with local transportation authorities. But enormous legal confusion around these devices remains. A Consumer Reports survey found more than one-in-four e-scooter users were uncertain of the traffic laws they should follow. Part of the problem is that there’s no consistent set of laws or social norms for electric scooters. Until recently, laws relating to “micromobility” vehicles like electric scooters, skateboards, hoverboards, and electric unicycles were rarely enforced and largely unknown (if they even existed). Some states still categorize all such vehicles as toys.