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Do You Need a License to Drive a 50cc Scooter?

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Nimble size, low maintenance, low gas consumption, ease of use – there are several reasons why many people turn to scooters for getting around town. There’s something about the feeling of fresh air in your face that makes this mode of transportation desirable for many.

That said, you need to familiarize yourself with the scooter licensing laws in your state just in case you run into a police officer down the street waiting to give you a citation. Do you need a license to drive a 50cc scooter? Here’s everything you need to know.

Scooter vs. Moped – What’s the Difference?

Right off the bat, you need to establish whether your motorized vehicle is a scooter or a moped. While the two have several similarities, the licensing laws governing them vary widely.

The term “moped” was coined from “motor” and “pedal” since they were traditionally equipped with pedals. While they no longer come with pedals, they are instead defined by the speed, output, and engine size. Mopeds typically reach top speeds of roughly 28 mph and have an engine size of 50cc or less. They look smaller than scooters despite their larger wheels and cost significantly less than scooters.

Like mopeds, scooters also have step-through frames. Their main differentiator is their engine size. Scooters don’t have a set engine size. The smallest ones have a 50cc engine and can go all the way up to 750cc for the bigger ones on the other end of the spectrum.

In short, if you’re riding a motorcycle that comes with a platform where you can place your feet, then what you’re riding is a scooter. If the engine size is below 50cc, then you’re looking at a moped.

Do You Need a Motorcycle License for a Scooter: Licensing Rules

Once you’ve established what type of motorized vehicle you’re riding, you now need to find out what kind of license is needed to drive a scooter. Scooter laws vary by state, with each one having its own laws and regulations surrounding licensing requirements.

Most states classify 50cc scooters as mopeds. It’s always a good idea to consult your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV’s) website and read about the specific laws governing scooters depending on the driver’s age.

Below is a list of some of the requirements when applying for a motorcycle license for scooter in most states across the country.

  • Scooter drivers aged 15 years and above need to have a valid driver’s license or a special moped permit to drive their scooter on a public road;
  • Scooter drivers are prohibited from operating their motorized vehicle on the interstate;
  • Drivers of scooters are required to drive on the extreme right of the roadways to avoid interfering with the normal traffic flow of other motorists;
  • In some states, rear license plates, insurance, and vehicle registration are mandatory for scooter owners;
  • If the scooter goes above 30 mph at any time, it is considered a motorcycle and is now subject to the same rules and regulations governing motorcycle owners;
  • In most states, scooter drivers are required by law to wear safety protection gear in the form of a helmet and eye protection;
  • In some states such as Virginia, scooters need to have brake lights, headlights, and turn signals, while in others such as Pennsylvania, it is mandatory for scooters to have foot pedals as well;
  • Depending on the state you reside in, you may be restricted to riding your scooter during daytime hours while there’s still daylight.

Since scooter laws vary widely from state to state, don’t assume that the laws in your jurisdiction still apply when you cross state lines. Get as much information from the DMV website in the state you’re driving in to avoid landing on the wrong side of the law.

Do You Need a License to Drive a 49cc Scooter?

A 49cc scooter is classified in most states as a moped. Like scooter laws, moped licensing regulations also vary widely depending on the state you reside in.

In Michigan, for instance, you don’t need a special license to drive a moped if you already have a valid driver’s license. If you don’t have a driver’s license, you’ll first need to apply for a special restricted license before you can take your scooter out on the road.

In New York, the licensing requirements for scooters and mopeds are the same as those for motorcycles. Drivers need to register their moped and have a valid driver’s license to drive it on roadways.

In California, you’ll need a special category motorcycle license to drive a moped on a public road. You also need to register it with the DMV and get a special license plate for it. This is usually a one-time process and has no renewal requirements.

Check your state DMV website to confirm the licensing requirements for mopeds in your jurisdiction.

Can I Buy a Scooter Without a License?

Vintage scooter stands in an alley
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Private sellers and dealerships don’t generally require potential buyers to show their motorcycle license when buying a scooter. That said, in most states, it is illegal to drive a motorcycle on public roads without a valid driver’s license, a motorcycle license, or a special license designated for scooters and mopeds.

How to Get a Motorcycle License

The motorcycle application process varies by state. That said, there are a few basic requirements that are common in most jurisdictions.

For minors, they’ll need to:

  1. Complete a classroom driver education course and pass the motorcycle written and riding test to obtain a learner’s permit or license; or
  2. Complete a motorcycle rider safety course and present a certificate of completion; or
  3. Have a provisional driver’s license

For adults, they’ll need to:

  1. Complete the DMV application form for driver’s license
  2. Provide proof of identity using a valid government-issued form of ID
  3. Complete a motorcycle rider and safety course and pass the riding and written test
  4. Pay the required motorcycle license fee

Do You Need a License to Drive an Electric Scooter?

In most states across the country, electric scooters are classified as electric bicycles. Drivers don’t need a license to operate them, so if you’re looking for a no license scooter option, this is your best bet.

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