Stand-up electric scooters have been popping up all over the country, popularized by an innovative rental model where riders can pay by the minute, rather than having to purchase their own hardware. These new “dockless” rentable scooters are similar to bikeshare programs that provide a convenient alternative to walking or ride-hail, while solving the complications that come from ownership, which may include maintenance, storage, and concerns about theft. One can imagine New Jersey commuters bypassing overcrowded parking lots by riding an e-scooter to the train station, or college students zooming to class on an e-scooter ahead of a delayed shuttle bus.
However, the rapid spread of this new mode of travel has introduced a new set of questions to potential riders and regulators. Should riders use them on sidewalks or roadways? Where should they be parked? Are helmets required? Are they safe?
While municipalities around the country struggle to answer these questions, things are much clearer in New Jersey: e-scooters are not legal at all.
What exactly are electric scooters?
Right off the bat, the term “scooter” is confusing because it is used to refer to many different types of vehicles. For this article, we are referring to a powered stand-up scooter, as seen in the image to the right. These e-scooters are an evolution of the kick-scooter, which is a popular toy among children, and received widespread popularity in 2000, when the “Razor” scooter became a sensation. Unlike the Razor scooter, these modern models have a battery-powered engine that allow riders to travel up to 15mph with minimal effort.
Other vehicles that are referred to as “scooters” include vehicles that resemble motorcycles, such as the Vespa. While these are somewhat uncommon in New Jersey, they are very popular in Europe. Closer to home, a mobility scooter resembles an electric wheelchair, and can be found at most big-box stores to assist with shopping.
Here is what New Jersey Law (Title 39 – Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation) defines as a scooter:
“Motorized scooter” means a miniature motor vehicle and includes, but is not limited to, pocket bikes, super pocket bikes, scooters, mini-scooters, sport scooters, mini choppers, mini motorcycles, motorized skateboards and other vehicles with motors not manufactured in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and which have no permanent Federal Safety Certification stickers affixed to the vehicle by the original manufacturer. This term shall not include: electric personal assistive mobility devices, motorized bicycles or low-speed vehicles; or motorized wheelchairs, mobility scooters or similar mobility assisting devices used by persons with physical disabilities, or persons whose ambulatory mobility has been impaired by age or illness.
Unfortunately for fans of the e-scooter, New Jersey law has lumped the low-speed stand-up model together with a range of more powerful vehicles. Additionally, while motorized bicycles and motorized wheelchairs are excluded from this definition, and get their own set of laws, the e-scooter must follow the following proclamation:
39:4-14.12 Motorized scooter, prohibited from operation on public street, highway, sidewalk; exceptions.
No person, except for an operator with a mobility-related disability, as authorized by section 2 of P.L.2007, c.21 (C.39:4-14.15), shall operate a motorized scooter upon any public street, highway or sidewalk.
Except as otherwise provided in section 4 of P.L.2005, c.159 (C.39:4-14.14), no person, except for an operator with a mobility-related disability, as authorized by section 2 of P.L.2007, c.21 (C.39:4-14.15), shall operate a motorized scooter upon any public property or lands.
The only additional exception is that a municipality may allow the use of scooters on municipal property, but only outside of roads or sidewalks. The intention of that law appears to be to allow sanctioned usage of scooters in parks (but only after registering with the municipality).
What about the exception carved out for “electric personal assistive mobility device?” According to 39:4-14.10, that is a “self-balancing non-tandem two wheeled device designed to transport one person, which uses an electric propulsion system with average power of 750 watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a propulsion system while operated by a person weighing 170 pounds is less than 20 miles per hour.” In other words, a Segway, and pretty much only a Segway.
New Jersey is not alone in having a law that bans the use of this innovative transportation solution. New York State does not allow them., and neither does Pennsylvania.
E-scooter rental companies have been willing to enter markets where the vehicles exist in a legal gray area, but none have yet attempted to launch in a location where the scooters are explicitly banned at the state level. Until the New Jersey law changes, it is unlikely that we will see them here.
Header image source: Jonathan Maus, Bike Portland
This article was written by BPRC staff and not written by an attorney, and the accuracy of the content is not warranted or guaranteed, nor is it endorsed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. If you wish to receive legal advice about a specific problem, you should contact a licensed attorney in New Jersey.