The electric scooter boom has come with some highly publicized fears about scooter safety. Some of these concerns are justified. Nearly all studies have shown that scooters face the same dangers that bikes do, in addition to them being less familiar to the general public. This boom in all forms of micromobility—not just scooters—has led to increased efforts for public education and infrastructure for lightweight electric vehicles.
As scooters have been popularized, ER doctors saw an increase in scooter injuries, as any person might reasonably expect (if people started commuting by pogo stick we’d expect those injury rates to go up as well). These accidents have made riders, scooter companies, and local governments take safety more seriously. Electric scooters are fun recreational and commuter vehicles, but they are not toys. Riders should be prepared to safeguard themselves and those around them, taking every precaution, including wearing helmets and other protective gear, signaling stops and turns, and obeying traffic signals and rules of the road.
Does all of this mean, however, that electric scooter riders need insurance?
In the United States, local and federal transportation agencies do not currently require riders of electric scooters to carry insurance. Riders are only required by law to have a valid drivers’ license. There is certainly more to be said though, since scooters have just arrived on the transportation scene within the past few years thanks to new enabling technologies like cheap, but powerful lithium batteries that make them possible. These laws, as always, are subject to change and may vary widely from state to state.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) writes that “scooters lacking seats that are operated in a stand-up mode” aren’t federally regulated as motor vehicles, which means individual states and cities set the rules for their use on the roads.
UK transportation safety codes currently do not even list electric scooters as an alternative vehicle, though they do have rules for electric bikes, which do not require a license, registration, or insurance. In most of the country, electric scooters were illegal on all roads, though this is changing because of the pandemic, and laws are more permanently expected to evolve, demonstrated by public demand and the places in the UK where shared scooters are newly permitted.
Riders should make inquiries with their local transportation agency to find out their legal obligations. It’s important to specify the type of vehicle you have. This can get confusing, since “scooter” can apply to a number of different micromobility vehicles. Some of the general classifications are below:
Kick scooter – generally refers to two-, three-, or four-wheeled push scooters without seats. These are commonly associated with toys for kids. Kick scooters may be non-motorized or equipped with gas- or electric-powered motors (more below).
Motorized scooter – also called a stand-up scooter or electric kick scooter. The term applies to a vehicle without a seat and, typically, a top speed of 30 mph. Unagi, and other personal electric scooters, are generally classified as “motorized scooters” or “motorized kick scooters.”
Moped – a small, two-wheeled motorized vehicle which is similar to a motorcycle but has an engine capacity of less than 49cc and a top speed of less than 30 mph (48 km/h).
Motor scooter – motor scooters are similar to mopeds but have an engine capacity of over 49cc.
Some of these vehicles are required to be registered and insured, others are not. In the U.S., at least, riders of electric motorized scooters like Unagi’s Model One do not need insurance. But there are other important questions to ask, such as should you get insurance to cover accidents on an electric scooter, and can you even get scooter insurance?
What Happens If You Have an Accident?
When it comes to riding a personal scooter, most of the above also holds true. If the rider is found at fault, they are responsible for damages to themselves and the other party. Most insurance companies have not yet developed specific policies that cover motorized electric scooters, and some companies state explicitly that their auto insurance will not cover scooter accidents.
“Electric scooter riders might think their auto insurance would kick in to cover an electric scooter accident,” notes Insurance Journal, “but automobile insurance generally doesn’t cover vehicles with less than four wheels. And homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may cover an accident that occurs on a traditional bicycle, but it does not cover motorized bike or scooter trips.” Lucian McMahon, a senior research specialist for the Insurance Information Institute, puts it this way: “Under the standard insurance policy, there’s most likely a pretty significant gap in coverage.”
So, Can You Get Scooter Insurance?
At minimum, electric scooter riders should have a health insurance policy to protect them in case of injury. At present, however, most major insurance carriers will not cover riders of privately-owned scooters, with the exception, currently, of Nationwide, who do offer scooter insurance.
One exception may be an “umbrella policy,” which covers injuries and damages outside the home. These days, umbrella policies—offered by major companies like Allstate, Nationwide, and State Farm—will often extend to liability claims for electric scooter accidents as well. That means they might cover medical expenses if others are injured or damages to another person’s property. They will not cover the insured’s medical expenses. Riders would need to contact an insurance agent to discuss the details of these policies. They might be a wise option for riders who commute regularly by scooter or ride on highly trafficked roads.
Umbrella insurance can be expensive and is not the ideal solution for insuring electric scooter riders. Ultimately, the industry will have to catch up quickly, argues Insurance Business magazine. “For insurance companies to stay relevant, they have to understand people, their preferences and their behavior.” And more people are choosing smaller, more environmentally conscious and cost-effective vehicles like electric scooters.
The big insurers may be slow on the uptake, but smaller startups are already filling the gap, using very different strategies for calculating risk and assessing premiums, deductibles, etc. One such company, Vroom, offers personalized insurance for “everything you can ride, drive or fly.” Other companies like Zego, Laka, and Bikmo have adopted similar models. This on-demand, all-vehicles-covered approach is sure to catch on quickly with e-scooter riders, as the popularity of personal electric scooters skyrockets.