If It’s Not People Powered, You Need a License!

  

trafficsafetytips

Before you go out holiday shopping for that 10-14 year old, with the idea that a motorized scooter, skateboard, or anything else with a motor attached may be the way to go. You might want to reconsider your options.

Remember way back when you were riding your bicycle with the playing cards attached to the bike frame with clothes pins so your bike would sound real cool and then the kid with the mini-bike would come zooming by and you were so jealous, at least I was. Well even way back then, if you were living in California, those bikes were not lawfully to be operated on a public roadway.

The vehicle code defines these types of vehicles, A "motorized bicycle" or "moped" is any two-wheeled or three-wheeled device having fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, or having no pedals if powered solely by electrical energy, and an automatic transmission and a motor which produces less than 2 gross brake horsepower and is capable of propelling the device at a maximum speed of not more than 30 miles per hour on level ground.
(b) A "motorized bicycle" is also a device that has fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power and has an electric motor that meets all of the following requirements:
(1) Has a power output of not more than 1,000 watts.
(2) Is incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour on ground level.
(3) Is incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power is used to propel the motorized bicycle faster than 20 miles per hour
(CVC 406).

A "motorized scooter" is any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, has a floorboard that is designed to be stood upon when riding, and is powered by an electric motor. This device may also have a driver seat that does not interfere with the ability of the rider to stand and ride and may also be designed to be powered by human propulsion. For purposes of this section, a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, a motor-driven cycle, as defined in Section 405, or a motorized bicycle or moped, as defined in Section 406, is not a motorized scooter.
(b) A device meeting the definition in subdivision (a) that is powered by a source other than electrical power is also a motorized scooter
(CVC 407.5).

And finally, before we can complete our discussion, A "motor-driven cycle" is any motorcycle with a motor that displaces less than 150 cubic centimeters. A motor-driven cycle does not include a motorized bicycle, as defined in section 406 (CVC 405).

Within the California vehicle code are descriptions of pretty much every vehicle type available and the bottom line is this. If it has a motor (gas or electric) to propel the vehicle, and you want to operate it on a public roadway; you are required to have a driver’s license.

There are a zillion little kids out there that are driving those electric powered Barbie Jeeps or GI Joe Hummers, and by definition these are toys and not part of this issue.

So what type of driver’s license do you have to have? Just by this fact alone, that a license is required means that all those kids I mentioned in my opening paragraph do not qualify to operate these vehicles.

With a basic Class C license which is what most of us have, in addition to driving a passenger vehicle, you are entitled to operate a motorized scooter. With a motorcycle class M2 license you can operate a motorized bicycle, moped, any bicycle with an attached motor, or motorized scooter. With a motorcycle class M1 license, you can operate a two-wheel motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized scooter.

I mentioned in an earlier column the requirement for wearing a helmet. Every one of these vehicles that I have addressed requires the proper wear of a helmet.

There is a very important reason why the law requires a licensed driver to operate these vehicles and that is the operator must comply with all vehicle code requirements. These vehicles are to operate in a regular traffic lane, stop for regulated intersections, obey posted speed limits and everything else that we have learned to obtain a driver’s license.

Pocket bikes, don’t even think about it! These can only be operated on private property and can not be registered for street use. All of these vehicles are required to be registered with DMV, which means insurance. If the motorized bike does not exceed 20 m.p.h and has an electric motor, no more than 1000 watts, it does not have to be registered. With all the fun of riding comes responsibility.

Weather it is a motorized bicycle, moped, motorized scooter or just a plain ol’ bicycle that you have to pedal and actually get some exercise, please use good judgment and go out and enjoy the ride.

Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and Public Information Officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign's Public Information Officer. He lives in Redding. More information on AVOID can be found here.

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7 Responses »

  1. "Clearance Auto" says that in states where it is permitted, will raise your rates based on your credit score. So if your credit situation has changed for the better by an appreciable amount, it is to your advantage to go shop around.

  2. This is very confusing. If you read this part of the DMV regs http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d12/vc24016.htm
    It states that you do not need a license to operate an electric bicycle. The regs seem to contradict each other.

  3. Wrong, the law is that a motorized bicycle within the standards defined by both federal law and the CA DMV is not a "motor vehicle" and specifically does not require a license, registration, etc. as the other person above pointed out. This is the problem, the police don't know the rules quite often. It is important to carry the regulations with you to show them the rules that govern electric bicycles. It is unfortunate that a simple green technology that reduces fuel consumption, saves money, and promotes business is sometimes under attack with ignorance...

    • There are 2 different types or definitions of "Electric Bicycles" in California, and yes, there is no logic nor does it make a bit of sense.

      CVC §406(a) requires a M1 or M2 drivers license and that you wear a DOT approved motorcycle helmet.

      CVC §406(b) requires no drivers license and you wear a minimum of a bicycle helmet.

      A "motorized bicycle" or "moped" is:

      •A two or three-wheeled device, capable of no more than 30 mph on level ground, and equipped with:

      – Fully operative pedals for human propulsion.

      – A motor producing less than two gross brake horsepower and an automatic transmission.

      – An electric motor, with or without pedals for human propulsion. (CVC §406(a))

      Driver must have a motorcycle license (M1 or M2).

      •A “motorized bicycle” is also defined as a vehicle with pedals and an electric motor (not more than 1,000 watts) which cannot be driven at speeds of more than 20 mph on level ground even if assisted by human power. (CVC §406(b)).

      If you operate a motorized bicycle which meets the definition of CVC §406(b), you:

      – Must be 16 years of age or older.

      – Must wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet.

      – Are exempt from the motor vehicle financial responsibility, driver license, and moped plate requirements (CVC §12804.9).

      •A motorized bicycle is issued special license plates and identification cards, which requires a one-time $18 fee. No renewal is required.

      • I believe this interpretation -- "...which cannot be driven at speeds of more than 20 mph on level ground even if assisted by human power" -- of CVC §406(b) is incorrect. The CVC actually says:
        [quote]
        (b) A "motorized bicycle" is also a device that has fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power and has an electric motor that meets all of the following requirements:
        (1) Has a power output of not more than 1,000 watts.
        (2) Is incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour on ground level.
        (3) Is incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power is used to propel the motorized bicycle faster than 20 miles per hour.
        [end quote]

        In part (3) the CVC is describing the motor not the device. A human may use pedal power or gravity to accelerate a 406(b) "motorized bicycle" faster than 20 mph, but the motor may not assist.

  4. Sounds like old Monty is telling us that a "mini-bike" is defined by the California vehicle code as a "motorized bicycle" or "moped". Way Cool! I'm going to dig out my old Steens "Taco 22" mini-bike with its 3-1/2 hp Briggs engine. Yup the same one I used when I was a kid to zoom by my peers with the playing cards in their bicycle spokes. Then I'll send 19 bucks and my motorized bicycle application (Reg form 230) to the DMV to get a licence plate for it. When I get pulled over I'll just show the cop this article by the North State AVOID Campaign's Public Misinformation Officer, point out that I'm legal and be on my merry way.....HA...Yea Right, WHAT A JOKE!

  5. Officer Dolittle here seems to have gotten confused reading the vehicle code. Electric bicycles do not require a special (e.g. M2) license. That's required for the electric vehicles under 30 miles/hr. Electric bicycles with a max speed of 20 miles/hr are in a class that does not require a special license.

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