Electric Scooters Under Arizona Law

In the last few months, there have been frequent news articles about the proliferation of electric scooters or e-scooters on our streets.  We’ve read about the increase in accidents and serious injuries when inexperienced riders go out on e-scooters.  Companies like Lime, Razor, and Bird have set up scooter rental stations on city streets, spawning conflicts with municipalities and traffic enforcement.  For older Arizona residents like me, it’s all a mystery. What exactly is an e-scooter?  How fast do they go?  What are these rental stations and how do they operate to make money for the scooter companies?  How are they classified and regulated under Arizona law?

What Exactly are E-Scooters and Electric Standup Scooters?

For our purposes, we will define an e-scooter as a kick scooter that is powered by a small electric motor.  The rider stands on the scooter to ride and must be able to balance while standing on the narrow scooter board. It can be a very light scooter used by a teenager or one of the larger scooters available for rent.  They are all e-scooters.

Arizona law breaks e-scooters into two categories.  Electric miniature scooters are the very light weight scooters that kids ride with a small motor. They are sturdy enough to accommodate an average sized adult, and travel on level ground at about 15 mph.  Electric standup scooters are a bit larger.  These are the ones that Lime, Bird, and other companies rent out for short trips.  They generally weight 35-70 pounds and can accommodate a 220-pound adult.  In general conversation most people lump the two together under the label e-scooter.  In addition to e-scooters, you may see electric bicycles and small sit-down scooters throughout valley cities.  Like e-scooters, these vehicles are intended as transportation modes for adult riders. 

How Do Short-term Scooter Rentals Work?

Renters download an application onto their phones.  When they find a rental scooter, they use the app to scan a bar code on the handlebars.  That unlocks the scooter for the rider’s use.  It also starts the rental clock ticking.  Generally, rental companies like Bird and Lime charge $1 to use the scooter and 15 cents per minute thereafter.  They are not intended for long trips.  A 10-minute ride to your destination will cost you about $2.50.  The scooters are dockless, so when a rider reaches the intended destination, he can leave it anywhere that does not block a public sidewalk.  Scooters do not come equipped with helmets.  Companies employ people to collect and recharge the scooters.

What Traffic Laws Govern these Small Motorized Vehicles?

Misconceptions abound as to what you can and cannot do with an e-scooter.  Can you ride them on sidewalks?  Should you ride in the bike lane on public roads?  Are helmets required? Do you need a driver’s license to drive one?  The answers may depend on where in Arizona you live. 

On April 22, 2019, Governor Ducey signed Senate Bill 1398 into law.  The Bill defines electric scooters, distinguishing them from mini sit-down scooters.  It gives e-scooter riders all the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists.  The legislation also leaves room for cities and towns to impose additional restrictions on riders.  A.R.S. § 28-101 now defines e-scooters in paragraphs 25 and 27.  It reads:

  1. Electric miniature scooter means a device that:

(a) weighs less than thirty pounds.

(b) has two or three wheels.

(c) has handlebars.

(d) has a floorboard on which a person may stand while riding.

(e) is powered by an electric motor or human power or both.

(5) has a maximum speed that does not exceed ten miles per hour with or without human propulsion on a paved level surface… . . . .

  1. Electric standup scooter:

(a) means a device that:

(i) weighs less than seventy-five pounds

(ii) has two or three wheels

(iii) has handlebars

(iv) has a floorboard on which a person my stand while riding.

(v) is powered by an electric motor or human power or both.

(vi) has a maximum speed that does not exceed twenty miles per hour with or without human propulsion on a paved level surface.

(b) does not include an electric miniature scooter.

Needless to say, bicycle and scooter enthusiasts have found the legislation confusing.  They point out the fuzzy nature of the speeds listed in the statute. The listed speeds of 10 mph and 20 mph don’t seem to match scooter design capabilities.  Do they mean those are the maximum speed the scooters can be legally ridden?  

Critics also note that by adding the two types of electric scooters to the existing e-bike statute (A.R.S. § 28-819), the statute applies bicycle laws to electric miniature and electric standup scooters.  That would mean there would be no requirement for scooters to be registered or licensed.  Yet, when it comes to electric standup scooters, the statute seems to say otherwise. 

An electric standup scooter must have a unique identification that consists of letters or numbers, or both, and that is visible from a distance of at least five feet.  The identification:

  1. May not be obscured by branding or other markings.
  2. Shall be used in this state to identify the electric standup scooter.

Critics also question the term “human powered” in the definitions where both types of e-scooters are defined as being powered by “an electric motor or human power or both.”   Why is human power included?  It appears more clarification is needed to clear up the confusion. 

Scooter Issues Confronted by Arizona Cities and Towns.

Arizona State University has made Tempe a hotbed of scooter rentals as well as complaints from pedestrians, drivers and local business.  Tempe has been dealing with a host of scooter issues.  People riding on crowded sidewalks, riding in opposition to traffic on the roads, accidents, and riders carelessly leaving scooters on pedestrian walkways.  In response, the City is proposing new regulations to control e-scooter traffic.  Riders under 18 will be required to wear helmets; riding on sidewalks will be prohibited.  Riders will be required to ride in bike lanes and travel in the same direction as traffic. 

Scottsdale has also instituted ordinances for e-scooters, e-bikes, and motorized skateboards.  While they are allowed to travel on sidewalks, they must yield to pedestrians.  They must be properly parked and not left on public sidewalks or private property.  The Tucson City Council is considering allowing e-scooters. but the details of the City ordinance are still up in the air.  Phoenix is planning a pilot program to allow rental scooters in a 2 square mile area of downtown Phoenix, but the program is not yet underway.  Scottsdale allows e-scooters on sidewalks; Tempe does not.  Rules for Tucson and Phoenix are still being drafted.  Riders need to know the rules in the town where they ride.

While e-scooters and motorized bicycles can be a headache for pedestrians and while inexperienced riders may be prone to accidents, there are a lot of potential benefits for society.  Short car trips to the local pharmacy, to the gym, or the grocery store create harmful carbon emissions and contribute to the air pollution that has plagued Arizona cities.  Making that same trip on a bicycle or an e-scooter creates no carbon emissions or air pollution.  With the increase in multifamily housing and greater urban density, these small, electric vehicles may have a real place in our future.  Environmentalists see them as one possible solution to our carbon emissions problem.






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