The Proliferation of Electric Scooters

Melissa H. Katz, Esquire
August 28th, 2019
By: Melissa H. Katz, Esquire

After being introduced in the D.C. area in 2017, electric scooters have gained popularity as evidenced by their usage in various localities throughout Virginia. Local governments have created pilot programs to examine whether this mode of transportation should be officially adopted1. While electric scooters are toted as both a means to reduce traffic congestion and protect our environment, they have also generated a plethora of complaints and safety concerns from both pedestrians and motorists, alike. Issues have arisen either because local governments have not sufficiently planned for electric scooter use and/or because of errant operators. After one municipality contracted with an electric scooter vendor, hundreds of scooters were dropped off the next day and before the City had finalized the areas of scooter usage, leading to headaches and confusion2. Motorists and pedestrians have also expressed frustrations resulting from electric scooter users flagrantly violating prohibitions against riding on sidewalks; ignoring traffic laws as applicable; and disregarding vendor’s rules regarding age restrictions, multiple users at one time, and careless abandonment of the scooter after use.

With the proliferation of electric scooters, this year’s Virginia General Assembly modified certain statutes to specifically address this method of transportation. Va. Code §46.2-100 now defines “motorized” scooter as any vehicle that is designed to allow a rider to sit or stand, has no vehicle identification number issued by a manufacturer, is powered in any way by an electric motor, weighs less than 100 pounds and has a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. Va. Code §46.2.904 was modified to give local governments authority to regulate use of electric scooters on designated sidewalks and in crosswalks. If there is no ordinance prohibiting such use, scooter riders can use a sidewalk or shared-use path with the same “rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances.” This would require a scooter user to abide by the same rules crossing a road or governing a crosswalk that apply to a pedestrian. A fine of up to $50.00 can be assessed for violation of the statute. Different rules apply if the electric scooter is being operated on a street or roadway, and under those circumstances electric scooter riders share the same rights and duties of the road as bicyclists. See Va. Code §46.2-905.

Given the lack of uniformity in the areas of usage, regulation, and enforcement, it is no surprise that scooter operators often violate the local ordinances and vendor’s rules. This creates additional hazards for motorists since scooters can go as fast as 20 mph. Scooter operators are often observed zipping up and down sidewalks and in and out of traffic, riding two riders at a time, and/or allowing minors to operate in violation of local regulations. Without better education regarding applicable laws, safe usage, and enforcement by the local governments, motorists need to be on high alert and wary of renegade electric scooter riders. The best advice is continue to drive defensively and maintain a proper lookout for all methods of transport. The injection of electric scooters may intensify as the Code of Virginia has also been amended so that if a locality does not adopt a licensing ordinance, regulation or other action by January 1, 2020, electric scooters can be deployed without formal regulation. See Va. Code §46.2-1315.


  1. Most recent electric scooter developments include The City of Fairfax launching its own year-long pilot program, effective July 8, 2019; Arlington County Board extending its pilot program through 12/31/19; and recent electric scooter use approved in the Town of Vienna, City of Falls Church, Merrifield, and George Mason University, and the City of Roanoke.
  2. The Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 29, 2019, “Electric scooters descend on Hampton Roads overnight, surprising city officials.”

Disclaimer

This blog and the information provided has been prepared by Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, P.C. (“BMHJ”) for information purposes only and is not intended nor to be construed as legal advice. This blog may contain the opinions of the members and associates of this firm on various legal issues and is not legal advice. Read More