A scooter is a gas-powered, motorized cycle. Perhaps the best known brand is Vespa. Scooters looks quite a bit like motorcycles but they are cheaper, lighter and more fuel efficient. Scooters are also easier to drive, which makes you wonder why you'll need to get a motorcycle license in most states to drive one.
In most states, you need a motorcycle license to drive a Vespa scooter if the engine has a fuel capacity of 50 cubic centimeters or more. You'll also need liability insurance.
Not Just for Kids
When you hear the term scooter, you may think of that wooden toy with four wheels that kids scoot along on. But today's scooters are not just for kids. Many adults use Vespas or other brands of scooter motorbikes to commute to work and run errands. Why not? You can drive for hundreds of miles on a tank of gas, park easily and pollute less.
But if you are thinking of buying a Vespa, check your state's driving license laws. Most states require you to get a motorcycle license to driver a scooter if the engine has a fuel capacity of 50 cubic centimeters or more, completing both the written test and the driving test. You'll also need to ride with an approved helmet and to purchase liability insurance. Although scooters can't always drive on freeways, they are just as invisible to car drivers as motorcycles are and much lighter. A gentle tap from a passing car can send you to the pavement.
State Laws Differ
Of course, every state gets to write the driving laws for its residents, and no two think exactly alike about any one topic. Scooter licensing laws vary among the states.
In California, you'll need an M1 driving license to operate a Vespa scooter, or any other type of scooter or motorcycle. First pass the written test. That buys you a permit to drive your scooter during the day while you practice up for the driving exam. You do not need a motorcycle license to drive a scooter with an engine smaller than cc 50, nor an electric scooter. The same is true in New York.
In Texas, you need a motorcycle license for any motorbike or scooter that has two wheels, no matter how many ccs it has.
In Oregon, the DMV defines motorcycle, moped and scooter according to the maximum speed the bike can go. A motorbike that can go over 30 mph is considered a motorcycle, which includes most mopeds and scooters. For this, you need a motorcycle license. If it maxes out at 30 on a flat surface, it might be a moped if the engine is cc 50 or less. For these you need a regular driver's license but not a motorcycle endorsement. If the maximum speed on a level road is 24, it is classified as a scooter as long as the engine is 35 cc or less. No license is needed for these.
In Florida, if the engine is cc 50 or more, you need a motorcycle license. If it is less than cc 50, you need a regular driving license. Pennsylvania and Maryland laws are basically the same. Maryland calls vehicles with engines of cc 50 or less as mopeds, not requiring a motorcycle license. You'll even need a motorcycle license to ride a Vespa in Ontario, Canada.