[Updated in 2019 to mention new laws regarding ebikes and escooters]
[for a 2009 update involving troubles in Tempe, see Is your motorized bicycle a play vehicle?]
Every now and then an unusual story involving bicycles, in this case motorized bicycles, and a point of law comes along. Surely, this is one of those cases. It revolves around a relatively new law enacted last year, that defines a whole new category: motorized bicycles. See HB2796, 2nd Regular legislature (2006).
It is well-established that bicycle riders in general do not need any sort of operating license. For why this is so in Arizona, see e.g. Bicycle License. Bicycles are defined as being human powered, so what happens if you strap a motor on it? The answer: it depends. Here is the hierarchy along with their statutory definition(the section numbers of 28-101 are prone to change, they are accurate as of this writing in Sept 2007), in ascending order of power limits:
- Bicycle: §28-101(6).
- Motorized Bicycle: §28-2516.
- “escooters” §28-819. (new in 2019; see SB1398)
- ebikes §28-819. (new in 2018; see HB2652)
- Moped: §28-101(33), see also §28-2513.
- Motor Driven Cycle: §28-101(34). a.k.a. motor scooter
- Motorcycle: §28-101(37).
Phew! that was more categories than I thought!
Motorized Bicycle (hereafter referred to as MB): No operating license is required, nor is title, registration or insurance. MBs may use bicycle lanes per 2516(6). However, MBs may not use paths because these are generally not “designated for the exclusive use of bicycles” [upon reflection, that struck-through phrase is a mis-interpretation of 2516(6). It seems to me that that section *allows* something; and to say it prohibits other things may be logically incorrect. Many cities do prohibit MBs from shared use paths]. The motor is limited to 48cc’s (which begs the question about an electric motor, was that an oversight? Tuscon’s ordinance DOES include the 1HP electric limit). In other words it is treated just like a bicycle would it not be for the following phrase: “operated at speeds of less than twenty miles per hour”. No Insurance is required per 28-2516(7), because Chapter 9 is the insurance chapter of Title 28.
escooter and ebike: These are new, 2018 & 2019, see the links in the bullet-list above. Note in this context escooters are essentially electrified stand-up (though they may have a seat) push scooters.
Moped: A motor vehicle operator’s license is required, but it can be any class — unlike more powerful cycles where a class M is specified. Title requirements are waived, required license and registration are inexpensive and fixed by statute. The power requirement is more specific: < 50cc’s AND < 1.5HP AND < 25mph at 1% or less grade. Mopeds may NOT be operated in bicycle lane or path. ADOT says that insurance is required for mopeds (but not for motorized bicycles); I cannot find any statutory basis for that conclusion — see the analysis here, which revolves around the fact that both motorized bicycles and mopeds are both defined by statute as types of bicycles.
Motor Driven Cycle: IS a motorcycle, but the motor is limited to 5HP. As such, a class M operators license, and title/insurance/registration would be required. There are a bunch of equipment differences, seems to mainly revolve around headlight requirements. They may be restricted from controlled access highways.
Motorcycle: No motor power limit. Class M operators license, and title/insurance/registration required.
The defining statute for mopeds gives a fairly tight definition of the speed capability, rated as no more than 25mph. But note that it is not a “moped speed limit”; it’s only an equipment specification, and ill-defined as well (how heavy is the driver/rider? The law doesn’t say)
Also need to check city laws could be more restrictive, e.g. Tuscon has an age limit on MB, and riding them on sidewalks is prohibited.
For example, if a perfectly compliant moped were rolling downhill faster, that would be no problem. Normal speed limits still apply, see §28-701 . As a practical matter, I have no idea who actually certifies these limits. The moped’s manufacturer, perhaps? Also, and obvious factor that would affect the 25mph max rating drastically is rider (or riders, many mopeds can accommodate a passenger) and payload weight. This is not in the definition at all.
By contrast, the MB definition (which is curiously not with all the other definitions in 28-101?) says that “For the purposes of this section (a MB) is operated at speeds of less than twenty miles per hour”. Does that constitute a “MB speed limit”? Bicycles by their nature can easily exceed 20mph with no helper motor at all. What if the motor is switched off — would the 20mph apply then? As usual, normal speed limit laws still apply of course. Also, there is no statutory requirement for a speedometer. A flyer put out by the city of Tuscon helpfully says that “You should also consider using additional equipment such as a speedometer…”. Would a MB that is licensed/insured/etc as a moped be a moped all the time or only when operated under 20mph — note that this is a big deal as a practical matter because mopeds are banned from bicycle facilities (regardless of operating speed) whereas MBs are subject to the same ride-to-the-right restrictions as bicycles. Another hiccup in the MB morphing into a moped is the moped’s definition of not being capable of exceeding 25mph on level ground. It is quite possible, or even likely, that a MB cannot fit this definition — it may fit the description of motor driven cycle which has other equipment and license requirements. All of these add together to make me wonder how reasonable all of this is, and how the heck a judge would see this. The statutes could really use a going-over.
Other oddities: the (presumably gasoline) motor size is limit is practically the same — 50cc for mopeds, and 48cc for MBs. What’s up with that? Shouldn’t it have been like 25cc?. And 28-2516C seems to have omitted an electric motor specification, leaving some to question the status of bicycles with electric helper motors. (Tucson does have an electric motor spec of 1HP max)
Another possible loose end is highway restriction. Bicycles in AZ are allowed to use highways except where prohibited by DOT, see §28-733. In effect this ends up being prohibited in all urban situations, and sometimes allowed in rural areas. I can’t find anything specific about mopeds or MB restrictions. Both are defined as bicycles + motor, so I suppose they inherit the same rights/restrictions to the road as bicycles.
The enabling legislation was pushed by Tom Prezelski (D-Tucson), it passed the 47th/2nd Regular session, May of 2006. Session Laws, Chapter 292. The bill was known as HB2796 (must first select correct session for link to work). There was a fair bit of controversy surrounding the bill in the “cycling community” — which sort of surprised me (naive, I guess. The animosity, it seemed to me, was needless and counterproductive). There is some good discussion here from a Tucson City Council meeting regarding their city reg’s.
How to Tell…
For a half-joking description of How to tell if you have a Moped, from reddit:
Ticketed rider pedals fine line in court
Carol Sowers, The Arizona Republic, Sept. 18, 2007 03:52 PM
SCOTTSDALE – A 50-year-old Scottsdale man is battling traffic citations in City Court because he says he was ticketed twice by a police officer who doesn’t know the difference between a motorized bicycle and a moped.
Steve Livingston says the officer, R. Royston, a longtime traffic officer, does not understand a new law that treats motorized bicycles like traditional pedal-powered bicycles.
Jesse Squier, Livingston’s lawyer, argued that a veteran traffic officer like Royston should have known about the new law, and that he “has a vendetta against my client.”
But Scottsdale prosecutor Mike De La Cruz argued that Livingston’s motorized bicycle really is a moped and that the officer “acted in good faith.”
The year-old law says riders who attach motors no larger than 33 ½ cubic centimeters [actually the law says no larger than 48cc’s] to their bicycles don’t need a driver’s license, insurance, or registration, and can travel in bicycle lanes, but can’t go more than 20 mph.
Royston testified Monday that he never heard of the new law when he stopped Livingston in November for riding his orange motorized bike in a bicycle lane along Granite Reef Road, near McDowell Road.
Royston insisted the cycle was a Moped, which are not allowed in bicycle lanes, and which require registration and driver’s licenses. The officer cited Livingston for “driving on a suspended license.”
Livingston admitted his license had been suspended for drunken-driving, but told Royston at the time that he didn’t need a driver’s license to ride his motorized bicycle.
Scottsdale Judge Wendy Morton dismissed the suspended license charge Monday [I heard that this is not correct, and that in actuality PROSECUTOR dropped the charge — however there were two suspended license charges and so had little effect] , but Livingston’s trial on a speeding ticket will continue later this month.
Royston spotted Livingston a second time in March, again riding his motorized bike in a bicycle lane near Eldorado Park at Oak Street and Miller Road.
Royston testified Monday that he was helping with a nearby accident investigation when he heard Livingston’s bicycle approaching him from about 100 yards away.
“It sounded like a gas-powered skate board,” Royston told the court.
The officer said he retrieved his radar gun from his patrol car and clocked Livingston at 28 mph, 8 mph faster than the legal limit for motorized bikes.
Royston pursued Livingston until the cyclist stopped a few blocks later, again on Granite Reef Road.
“As far as I was concerned he was a Moped in a bicycle lane, Royston testified, adding that he “had a hard time catching up with him.”
Livingston testified that his cycle odometer showed him going no faster than 19.5 mph that day.
Prosecutor De La Cruz questioned the accuracy of the bicycle odometer, insisting that the 28.5 mph radar gun reading qualified Livingston’s bicycle as a Moped.
De La Cruz said that as a result, Livingston was not covered by the legislation that took effect in September 2006.
“The officer got the law right,” De La Cruz said.
Royston handcuffed Livingston, put him in the back of his car and told him that he was tired of arguing about the law, according to a transcript of a tape Livingston made during his arrest.
“I’m going to settle this argument, and a judge is too, and we’re going to put you in jail for it,” Royston said, according to the transcript.
The trial is expected to resume Sept. 24.
Bike rider convicted of riding on suspended license
Carol Sowers, The Arizona Republic, Sept. 26, 2007 07:03 AM
A 50-year-old Scottsdale man has lost the first round of a court battle with a police officer who has cited him twice for riding his “motorized bicycle” in a bicycle lane, claiming it is really a moped.
Scottsdale Judge Wendy Morton agreed Tuesday with Scottsdale Police Officer R. Royston, convicting Steve Livingston of riding on a suspended license.
The city court judge ruled that Livingston’s bright-orange cruiser with a helper motor is a moped. Morton said Livingston exceeded the 20 mph maxium speed for such bicycles and that he was therefore riding it illegally in a bicycle lane while on a suspended driver’s license.
Morton threw out Livingston’s argument that his bicycle is covered under a year-old state law that says bicycles with helper motors can use bike lanes, and riders don’t need insurance, registration, or driver’s licenses, so long as they don’t exceed 20 mph.
Royston testified that in March he clocked Livingston’s cruiser at 28.5 mph in a bicycle lane on Granite Reef Road near Oak Street.
“As far as I was concerned, he was a moped in a bicycle lane,” Royston testified.
Livingston denied going that speed, saying his bicycle computer showed a maximum speed of 19.5 mph for the entire day.
Royston arrested him for driving on a suspended driver’s license, stemming from drunk driving charges.
Jesse Squier, Livingston’s attorney, argued that Royston had a vendetta against his client because he had stopped him five months earlier for riding his motorized cruiser in a bicycle lane.
Royston admitted he knew nothing at the time about the new motorized bicycle law and considered them mopeds.
Livingston could face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines when he is sentenced Oct. 17.
Squier said he will appeal Morton’s ruling, in part because the “motorized bicycle law” doesn’t spell out penalties for exceeding the 20 mph speed limit.