The quick answer is no, but with important stipulations you need to know!
Renting or purchasing an electric scooter, moped, or electric bicycle can drastically improve your visit and standard of living in California. Powered mostly by electric motors, having the option to sit , being able to carry a few items, and costing well under $500 in most cases (if you’re not renting) makes these electric two (or three-wheelers) tempting means of transportation or to play tourist. But do you need a special license to operate any of these in California?
The quick answer is no, but you need, at the very least, a California Class C Driver’s license or learner’s permit if you plan to venture off private property or ride on public roads.
What kinds of motorized scooters, motorized bicycle/mopeds, and electric bicycles don’t need a special license?
The California DMV’s licensing requirements linked here and AB 1810 are quite clear what license you need to match up with what two (or three) wheeled motorized vehicles you’re using. If it’s motorized scooter, rental or owned, you only need a California DL or proof of learner’s permit to operate. A basic rule of thumb is if your motorized vehicle has a floor board that allows you to stand, it’s a motorized scooter.
If you’re on a rental electric scooter or own one and you’re under 18, you need a helmet.
If you don’t have at least a learner’s permit, you can’t legally operate a motorized rental scooter off private property and can be fined if cited.
Electric Mopeds or motorized bicycles with motors less than 4 HP that can’t go above 30 MPH, you need an M2 license, the only exception being if you’re renting for less than 48 hours. Then, you only need a California DL or proof of learner’s permit.
And, if it’s any class of an electric bicycle that stops providing electrical assistance up to 28 MPH, you don’t need any type of license at all.
Mopeds with electric motors greater than 4 HP or gas engines, that can go above 30 MPH, and motor driven cycles with engines below 149cc, you need an M1 license.
All of these and more pictured below only require a California Drivers License or proof of Learners Permit to operate on public roads.
Operation of Motorized Scooters
California vehicle code is again clear how and where you can operate motorized scooters, but the general rule of thumb is if you’re travelling on a public road with a speed limit 25 MPH or less, you must ride as far right as safely possible, this means most neighborhood roads.
If the speed limits on the public road are greater than 25 MPH, you can only ride in a bike lane unless your local city allows for motorized scooter riding outside said lane.
If you’re riding at night, your motorized scooter must have a white light that can shine 300 feet in front of you, reflectors on the sides, and a red reflector out back.
You can not operate a motorized scooter on the sidewalk.