This week’s question comes from James in the Sunset, who asks:
Q: “My girlfriend has a Vespa, and we want to go riding together. I have seen these Scoot vehicles riding all over town. I looked online and have some questions about renting one of these things. I don’t have a motorcycle license and don’t have motorcycle insurance. I have zero experience riding a motorcycle or scooter. I also weigh 265 pounds. What happens if I rent one of these things and get into an accident or if it gets knocked over by someone? What are my rights and responsibilities?”
A: James, thanks for raising this question. You have caused me to learn more about Scoot, and some of what I read has me concerned. First, for the uninformed, Scoot is in the business of short-term rental of electric scooters. Scoot offers two models: the Scoot, with a small cargo box, and the Cargo, with a 90-liter cargo box that they say has enough space to fit six six-packs, four pizzas or 30 pints of ice cream.
Both are electric and may be found at more than 75 locations throughout The City, some in parking garages where they are charging and others charged and parked in the street. They say that there are currently 500 vehicles on the road in San Francisco. Scoot is an app-enabled service, much like Zipcar. Scoot says it’s free to join, but there is a $10 charge for a DMV check, which is reported to be non-refundable if you have a history of traffic violations and/or accidents that will disqualify you from being a member.
Scoot’s vehicles apparently fall under the definition of a “motorized scooter” under California Vehicle Code, which defines a motorized scooter as any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, a floorboard designed to be stood upon when riding and powered by an electric motor that cannot achieve speeds greater than 30 miles per hour. This device may also have a driver seat that does not interfere with the ability of the rider to stand and ride and may also be designed to be powered by human propulsion.
According to its website, Scoot membership does not require a motorcycle license. The DMV website states that while motorized scooters do not require a motorcycle license, motor-driven cycles — those powered by an engine 149 cc or less; think Vespa — do. Given its style and design, Scoot resembles a motor-driven cycle more than a motor scooter. But apparently because it is electric and has a floorboard big enough to stand on, they are apparently riding through this loophole.
As Scoot members do not have to have a motorcycle license, they do not have to demonstrate an ability to ride a scooter before taking one of these cute little potential death traps out for a spin. A new member must either do an in-person tutorial or watch an online 20-minute instructional video. To me, a video is inadequate training, which I think creates some liability for Scoot. I can assure you that if you are injured by the fault of another riding a Scoot, the defense will be that you had inadequate knowledge of how to operate one.
As someone who rode minibikes, scooters, mopeds and eventually motorcycles for 40 years, I can tell you that operating a two-wheeled vehicle is much more precarious than one with four wheels. I recommend that anyone who wants to ride a motorized two-wheel vehicle take an approved motorcycle rider safety course.
Scoot says its vehicles are insured up to $1 million, so long as you are not breaking any of their rules. This coverage is only for the benefit of anyone you may injure as the result of your negligent operation. It provides no coverage for the damage to the scooter or injury to yourself because of your fault or that of another. So if you are hit by someone without insurance, you will not have any coverage for any medical injuries or other losses, such as lost wages, pain and suffering or disfigurement. Moreover, if the collision is your fault, you will be hit for the cost of repair or replacement of the scooter and possibly Scoot’s loss of rental income for the period it is out of commission. Likewise, if someone backs into the scooter and knocks it over, you will be held liable for the cost to repair it unless you can prove that it was not your fault.
If you, at their discretion, are found to have violated one of their “rules,” such as riding outside of San Francisco, carrying a passenger, letting someone else drive it or, in your case, weighing more than 250 pounds, they may deny you insurance coverage altogether — thereby leaving you in the black hole of vehicle insurance set forth by Proposition 213, which will prevent you from recovering damages for your injuries even if you are not at fault.
If you are injured on a Scoot, try and document what happened through photographs and videos and an accurate police report. Given the complexities of this developing area of insurance and laws involving licensing of scooters, I recommend you contact an experienced trial lawyer to advise you. And always wear a helmet. Scoot rules aside, it is the No. 1 rule in two-wheeled safety. Scoot provides two sizes to choose from with every rental.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.