Should Bird or Lime e-Scooters be Considered Mopeds in Raleigh?

Raleigh staff are expected to bring proposed regulations to Raleigh City Council during it’s October 16th City Council session on how to deal with electric scooters. Unsurprisingly, the scooters have generated more controversy among Raleigh citizens since the last post on scooters appeared on this blog. Since City Council took up the action to draft a policy around the devices Bird has deployed more scooters in Raleigh, and Lime has deployed a fleet of its e-scooters as well to compete with Bird. With the pending policy on the agenda in one week, citizens have taken to discussing the issue online again with increased interest.

There are several complaints about the scooters that boil down to one of the three issues below:

  1. Parked scooters blocking the sidewalk to pedestrians and also causing accessibility issues for individuals in a wheelchair.
  2. People riding the scooters on the sidewalks alongside pedestrians and risking injury to both.
  3. Users not wearing helmets or being underage

In addition to the above complaints, the Raleigh City Attorney’s office caused another controversy online by saying they believe the e-scooters would fall under NC law as mopeds. This classification would basically make the ride-sharing aspect of e-scooters impossible since the devices would need to be registered, have a license plate, and riders carry insurance for the devices.

Since there’s so much going on with scooters I’m going split this post into two parts. I’ll focus here on the City Attorney’s statement on scooters legal classifications. Later this week I’ll post about the complaints above, how other city’s are handling these issues, and where I fall on the debate (spoiler, I’m a scooter lover, but believe in some common sense regulations/rules). Fair warning, I’m not a lawyer.

Why call it a moped?

E-scooters are relatively new devices coming to the popular market around 2016. Government is typically slow to create laws to accommodate new devices and services, so Raleigh’s City Attorney is forced to try and place the devices within the category that best accommodates it. Bicycles and electric assisted bikes, like the ones planned for Raleigh’s bike share program, are specifically accommodated in North Carolina law. Neither a regular bike or e-bike, requires the rider to wear a helmet if they’re older than 16. Both are allowed to be ridden in the street, on the road, in bike lanes, on the sidewalk, or on the greenway.

The other two categories are “Moped” and “Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices” or EPAMD for short. After North Carolina lawmakers updated laws on mopeds in 2016 more restrictions were put in place. A moped owner must register the moped with the state, and carry liability insurance. The changes also placed mopeds into the category of “Motor Vehicles” which puts them in the same family as regular cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Thus a moped can’t be ridden in a bike lane. This would put e-scooters at a huge disadvantage since the scooters both Bird and Lime use in Raleigh run at 15 MPH, or half the speed a moped is able to operate at (30 MPH).

A better category for the e-scooters would be “Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices (EPAMD)”. This category is limited to vehicles with electric motors capable of going 15MPH. EPAMD devices do not need to be registered. Operators are not required to carry liability insurance, and they can be used on bike lanes, sidewalks, and multi-use paths like Raleigh’s greenway system. NC law for EPAMDs also provides local municipal governments the power to regulate where the devices can be operated. For example, Raleigh City Council could vote that EPAMDs couldn’t be ridden on sidewalks in certain areas, or at all.  Unfortunately, NC law for EPAMDs has one major thing blocking scooters from being included…

(7b)      Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device. – A self-balancing nontandem two-wheeled device, designed to transport one person, with a propulsion system that limits the maximum speed of the device to 15 miles per hour or less.

Non-tandem means the wheels must be side by side, not one in front of the other. E-scooters also don’t provide a self-balancing mechanism. This makes EPAMDs limited to the “Segway” style devices you commonly see used by private security guards and police like the one in the picture below.

So likely Raleigh’s city attorney is simply forced to place e-scooters into the category of mopeds. As such I’ve written to my state representatives asking them to update the laws and either modify the EPAMD category so e-scooters could be included or create a new category all together that e-scooters could be placed in that wouldn’t treat them like motor vehicles.

So what’s an e-scooter like?

Electronic scooters come in many shapes and sizes. However, the ones used in Raleigh by Bird and Lime share many common characteristics so I’ll be focusing on those. These e-scooters are limited to 15 MPH in speed (although you can go faster on some downhill). They all require the rider to stand on the scooter holding onto handlebars. They’re all also operated by a thumb throttle, and require the user to “kick-off” a few times to get the scooter moving before the motor will kick in.

The initial Bird scooters that came to Raleigh are the Xiaomi Mi 365 scooter. It’s a very popular design and used all over the world. The main disadvantage the Xiaomi scooter has over the others you see in Raleigh is its 200-watt motor. The slightly less powerful motor allows for the scooter to go a longer range but also makes it difficult for the scooter to go up hills.

All of Lime’s e-scooter fleet, and also Bird’s newer scooters, are custom designs created by “Ninebot”. Ninebot is well known for its electric small vehicles and it also purchased the company Segway back in 2015. These scooters all use a 250-watt motor giving them extra power for climbing hills. The speed limit of 15 MPH remains unchanged.

All scooters have front and rear brakes, a headlight, and some form of tail light. They also include a bell, just like a regular bicycle, to help alert people to their presence. None of the scooters used by Bird or Lime include a seat, space for a license plate, rearview mirrors or turn signals, which are all characteristics of a moped.

Bird and Lime both require in their rules users have a valid drivers license (which is scanned into the app on your first use). They also require riders to be 16 or older, wear a helmet, and not ride on the sidewalk. Those last two rules are rarely followed and have caused a lot of outcry by Raleigh residents. Check back later this week for a blog post focused on those issues.


What do you think?

Here’s a summary of the main categories of vehicles under current NC law. Where would you place e-scooters? You can check the actual law on the NC Legislature website here.

3 Comments on “Should Bird or Lime e-Scooters be Considered Mopeds in Raleigh?”

  1. I think wattage and top speed are the two important things here. I would look for something like <300 watts, <15mph = it's regulated like a bicycle.

    Conventional mopeds are more in the range of 1500-3000 watts (2-4 horsepower.) Clearly, this is a big difference.

    I think that there should be some restriction about where scooters (and bikes) can use the sidewalks. Maybe drop most downtown speed limits to 20mph and set that as the limit. So if the speed limit is 20mph or less, scooters (and bikes) must use the street. Where the speed limit is higher, they may (but are not required to) use the sidewalk.

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