Rules of the Road

Here’s what laws do and don’t say about riding electric scooters and skateboards

California state assembly member Kristin Olsen rides an electrically powered skateboard called a ‘Zboard’ during a press event near the State Capitol in Sacramento on in 2014. Assembly member Kristin Olsen discussed AB 2054, a bill that would permit the use of electrically-motorized skateboards as alternative modes of transportation. Washington state does not have laws relating to electric powered skateboards.
California state assembly member Kristin Olsen rides an electrically powered skateboard called a ‘Zboard’ during a press event near the State Capitol in Sacramento on in 2014. Assembly member Kristin Olsen discussed AB 2054, a bill that would permit the use of electrically-motorized skateboards as alternative modes of transportation. Washington state does not have laws relating to electric powered skateboards. rbenton@sacbee.com

Question: Is it legal to ride an electric scooter or an electric skateboard in a bike lane? Some of them can go 20 mph, so it seems like it would be dangerous to ride them on sidewalks around people.

Answer: You’d think the answer to this question would be the same for both the scooter and the skateboard. I wish it were that simple.

Washington state law specifically addresses electric scooters, or, if you want to get technical, motorized foot scooters. Electric skateboards, meanwhile, are undefined and, as far as I can tell, unaddressed by state law.

If your mode of transportation is human-powered and you’re not on a bicycle you’re considered a pedestrian. That would include scooters and skateboards. Once you attach a motor to it, your scooter or skateboard is no longer human-powered (obviously) so you no longer fit the definition of a pedestrian. If you ride a motorized foot scooter the law groups you with electric assist bicycles and Segways.

If you ride an electric skateboard, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

So I’ll start with the easy part; state law allows you to ride an electric scooter in a bike lane. In fact, electric scooters are pretty much treated like a regular bike (with a few exceptions).

To quote the law, “motorized foot scooters may have access to highways of the state to the same extent as bicycles.” That means they can ride on the road, a shared-use path or a dedicated bike lane.

At the state level, electric scooter laws diverge from bike laws around sidewalks. While legal to ride a bike on a sidewalk (except in a central business district) electric scooters are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk unless the sidewalk is also part of a bike path.

The state law does give provision for municipalities to place additional limits on motorized scooters so if you ride one, it’s important to check your local laws. Bellingham, as an example, requires motorized scooter riders to wear a helmet and does not allow motorized scooters on multi-use trails. Interestingly, Bellingham’s municipal code does allow motorized foot scooters on the sidewalk, as long as they’re going no faster than 4 mph.

I was in Portland last week, where electric scooters have become ubiquitous. While riding my bike over Burnside Bridge, I was passed by two electric scooter riders.

The week before that I was driving along Northwest Avenue in Bellingham at about 20 mph and wasn’t catching up to a guy on an electric skateboard in the bike lane.

It make sense that if electric scooters and skateboards can keep up with, and even pass, a cyclist, that they ride in the bike lane instead of on the sidewalk. And when it comes to scooters the law is in agreement.

But on electric skateboards state law is silent. A few cities treat them the same as a motorized foot scooter in their municipal code, but many cities have no law clearly stating where electric skateboards fit in. Across the country, only a few states have laws that address electric skateboards.

If you’re an electric skateboard rider, where do you ride?

I asked a traffic officer at the Bellingham Police Department how they handle electric skateboards. Since state and city laws don’t address them, their traffic unit discussed what a reasonable approach would be when the law isn’t clear, and decided to treat them the same as motorized foot scooters.

If you don’t know the law in your city or county and ride an electric skateboard I’d encourage you to talk to a local law enforcement officer and find out how your jurisdiction views electric skateboards.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.

  Comments