If you have heard that a moped is a motorized bicycle, your information is correct but behind the times. Mopeds started out as bicycles with pedals and a small motor to help you along, but, like every other species, they evolved. Today, mopeds still have the small motor but often there are no pedals in sight. Do you need a license? Perhaps, but not the kind you might think.
The Motorcycle "Family"
Think of two-wheeled, motorized vehicles as members of a small family, like the three bears in the Goldilocks story. Motorcycles are the poppa bears, scooters the mama bears and mopeds are the babies. Mopeds may or may not have pedals these days, but the motors are small and the vehicles can't go very fast.
Each state writes its own definition of mopeds, but most classify them as having a motor with less than 50cc capacity. This means that they cannot zip along much faster than 30 mph. Some states require that they be even slower and have different features. New Jersey, for example, requires that a moped be under 50cc, but the bike must also have pedals and only go 25 mph. In California, a bike is considered a moped only if it has pedals and cannot exceed 20 mph.
License Not Required
You'll also find the state laws on license requirements all over the map. If you doubt this, take a look at the summary of all state laws on mopeds published by AAA insurance company. One of the most common approaches is to not require a license.
Many states do not impose license requirements for mopeds. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia. Some states don't require a license for adults, but do require a moped permit for adolescents. Many impose a minimum age limit to ride a moped.
A second popular approach among states is to allow anyone holding any type of driver's license to operate a moped. This is the law in Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
A few states require special moped licenses or require riders to get a motorcycle license. Among these are Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some states provide moped licenses for adolescents and others who wish to drive mopeds but don't have driver's licenses.
Laws differ widely among states and the odds are even as to whether you will need a license to drive a moped in your state. But if your state does require one, a regular driver's license is often enough.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.