CA Bill No Longer Redefines E-scooters, But Removes Helmet Requirements for Over-18

Scooters in Hayes Valley. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Scooters in Hayes Valley. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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After being amended in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee last week, the e-scooter bill A.B. 2989 from Heath Flora (R-Ripon), has been reduced to a single change in the vehicle code: it removes the requirement for adult riders of stand-up scooters to wear helmets.

Bird, the bill’s sponsor, had sought a clearer definition of what stand-up scooters are (including maximum speeds) and where they could be ridden (on sidewalks? in bike lanes?). But there was pushback from various quarters. Pedestrian advocates objected that the suggested top speed—25 mph—was too fast, especially if the scooters were to be allowed on sidewalks. Cities that are already dealing with e-scooters weighed in on different ends of the debate, with Santa Monica, for example—which has come up with its own e-scooter regulations—objecting on the grounds that a new definition would weaken current regulations and its own efforts.

Law enforcement agencies had objected that it was difficult to distinguish between various types of scooters, and thus would be hard to enforce new regulations based on power limits, which the bill originally intended to do.

There are already separate definitions for motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, and motorized bicycles or mopeds, as well as various classifications for e-bikes. A.B. 2989 tried to match the e-scooter definition to that of e-bikes—maximum speed 20 mph, no driver’s license required, no helmet, with local regulations deciding whether sidewalk riding was allowed.

But that didn’t fly. So now the bill avoids defining standup electric scooters as a new and separate thing. They remain included under the current definition of “motorized scooters,” which are designed for standing—but can have a seat; and are powered by an electric motor—or maybe some other motor, including human leg power.

Current law says riders of motorized scooters may not ride on sidewalks, may not carry passengers, may not go faster than 15 mph, and must have a driver’s license—thus imposing a de facto age limit, so no one younger than 16 can legally ride them, which may come as a surprise to some current riders. Riders are also required to wear a helmet—the only thing A.B. 2989 would change.

According to various sources, the dockless e-scooter companies were concerned that a helmet requirement would kill their business. The companies recommend wearing a helmet while riding, and their apps and the scooters themselves remind riders that helmets are a wise idea. However, having a legal requirement is a different matter which could lead to targeted enforcement and fewer people riding these relatively environmentally-friendly modes of transport.

It’s worth reminding everyone of this other section in the vehicle code, about electric powered scooters:

  • This state has severe traffic congestion and air pollution problems, particularly in its cities, and finding ways to reduce these problems is of paramount importance.
  • [Electric] scooters. . . produce no emissions and, therefore, do not contribute to increased air pollution or increase traffic congestion.
  • It is the intent of the Legislature in adding this article to promote the use of alternative low-emission or no-emission transportation.

California Walks and L.A. Walks were unfairly blamed on Twitter earlier this week for their role in the bill amendments. CA Walks replied that it was a misunderstanding. “We believe e-scooters will have a role in fostering safe, healthy, inclusive streets,” they wrote, “but we could not support this bill because it did not prioritize the safety of our most vulnerable users. We did not advocate for the specific amendments that were announced this week.”

Their objections, as outlined in Streetsblog’s article a few weeks ago, were specific to the combination of the proposed 20 mph speed limit and permissive sidewalk-riding—what they called “a dangerous combo that would further undermine the safety of already inadequate and incomplete public right of way reserved for vulnerable sidewalk users.”

The bill makes no changes to local regulatory authority in terms of registration or parking of e-scooters. The sponsors had hoped to create statewide consistency for ease of entering new markets, but for now it looks like local regulation – like recent ones in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and San Francisco – will keep feeling their way towards a compromise.

A.B. 2989 hasn’t passed the legislature yet—it is currently facing a vote on the Senate floor—so amendments are still theoretically possible.

6 thoughts on CA Bill No Longer Redefines E-scooters, But Removes Helmet Requirements for Over-18

  1. This take isn’t exactly accurate. Yes AB 2989 would have allowed e-scooters on sidewalks by default, but it also would have allowed individual cities and municipalities to restrict them locally, which is the same way we already deal with bike and e-bike usage on sidewalks in California.

    So instead of supporting this bill that would have enabled local sidewalk use regulation in urban areas where it makes sense (again, same as we already do for bicycles) some advocacy orgs opted to oppose it outright, which led to the nerfed version that now exists.

    There are bigger issues around e-scooters as mentioned in the article, namely the existing, confusing regulations regarding driver’s licenses and usage restrictions on streets with speed limits over 25mph. This confusion both contributes to some of the bad behavior we are seeing right now while also enabling biased enforcement toward minors and others who are likely to not know and follow these unusual laws.

    It could have been a great opportunity for advocacy orgs to help pass a more equitable law AND win local sidewalk restrictions, but instead they decided to buy into the hysteria.

  2. Well that’s a bit unfortunate. The ideal situation would be to just classify them in either Tye 2 or Type 3 e-bike categories and be done with it. Everything that would apply to those e-bikes would then apply to scooters, but with the best part being that they then become legal for use without a driver’s license and thus usable by folks under 16.

  3. It really goes to show that we need a single entity representing the injuries of all persons who were injured by a vehicle whether they were on a scooter, bike or just walking.

    While there isn’t a single car lobby fighting this, that’s likely because these small groups are fighting each other and are therefore unable to push a meaningful change.

    In the meantime, we have other countries that simply painted a lane down the middle of a sidewalk and protect both pedestrians and bikes from vehicles. In US, we decided that our bike lane should not be on the sidewalk, be minimum of 6ft wide + 2 ft buffer and ran into an uphill battle vs people who want to park their car or drive their car.

  4. Many cars can exceed 90 mph, but we have speed limits. Speed limits for riding on uncrowded sidewalks are possible if we set them. Scooters could optionally have a button next to the throttle which caps motor assistance to 5, 8, 10 mph, or some other speed.

  5. Banning scooters, another attempt to deride a practical solution to urban congestion the government cannot. Their solution, Spend billions to expand BART out to the boondocks rather than fix it’s current stock that’s dilapidated and broke. E-scooters are great. THEY WORK
    – They can be parked virtually anywhere….even taken indoors and out of the way of vandalism and theft.
    – They’re cost effective, granted it’s no car but the typical battery life is 15 miles, so there’s nowhere you cant go with the downtown radius.
    – Unlike bicycles they don’t ride up and chafe my reproductive organs.
    – They use far less energy than an electric car.

    E-scooter proliferation may encourage the city to pursue expanding and repair; smooth and clean sidewalk initiative after the infamous Fecal fiasco when San Francisco streets tested positive for fecal borne diseases not seen since the 19th century. A standing electric scooter is a few inches wide and less than 3 feet long; plus folds to be carried. In other words it takes up no more or less space than what an adult man occupies in his walking stride. Average walking speed is 3 mph, so an e-scooter going 6 mph is no terrifying threat to public safety, People jog at 6 mph and they bypass slowpokes frequently; the only thing e-scooters need is a mandated speed limit. Electric scooters on the sidewalk are a public nuisance but bums
    pooping, puking and peeing threatening public with their pitbulls and
    offering oral sex for drug money isn’t. The only reason that scooters
    are a hazard, is because they are always swerving around feces and

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