Opinion: Scooter Rentals Should Require Motorcycle Endorsement

I’m going to confess my own bias here. I dislike 50cc scooters as a class. When I’m brought to power, all currently 50cc scooters will be required to upgrade to 100cc or larger engines, and anyone who’d care to ride one will be required to get their motorcycle endorsement. You know, like an adult. Just imagine it, a Ruckus as fast as a Buddy 125 right out of the box. When Rally time comes along, everyone can keep up with the big rides no problem. It will be glorious.

In the intervening years before the start of the Salzman Administration, we’re stuck with all the nonsense that comes along with how 50cc scooters are licensed in much of the USA. For the uninitiated, many states (read as “stupid states”) allow 50cc scooters to be ridden on just a standard driver’s license. Now I haven’t been a teenager in a while, but I’d bet good money the kids in Driver’s Ed don’t spend any time on 50cc scooters learning how not to be hit by cars. (They certainly aren’t spending any time learning how to not hit scooters.)

Therein lies the rub. Riding a powered two-wheeled vehicle in traffic is a wholly separate set of skills and hazards than driving a standard automobile. Ironically, the bulk of that danger is from said automobiles, but I digress. I’ve written previously about closing the licensing gap for 50cc scooters, but a story out of Florida has me thinking about the subject from another angle: rentals.

According to Dealer News, a Bay County Florida requirement that rental scooters carry a flag onboard for extra visibility was struck down after local scooter and motorcycle rental store, California Cycles, successfully sued the county to remove the rule.

The owner of California Cycles in Panama City Beach sued the city and county in June, contesting new regulations that would have required that riders wear safety vests, the scooters be fitted with visibility flags, and the businesses carry the $1 million liability insurance. The lawsuit contends that state law trumps city and county ordinances.

It would appear some well-meaning County Commissioners wanted to address the principle issue with riding any two-wheeled vehicle in traffic: visibility. Since Florida doesn’t require additional licensing or training for 50cc scooters (because Florida), would-be scooter renters are likely woefully unaware of the dangers they face. They’re also likely to simply treat their scooters like bicycles and not only annoy car drivers wholesale, but put themselves in additional danger.

Now on the other hand, I can fully appreciate the management of California Cycles (this name is awesome, by the way, because geography) not wanting to let the Bay County enforce “full dork” on all their would-be scooter rental clients. However, the fact that this standoff happened in the first place just underscores the need for reforming the licensing requirements for 50cc scooters. If riding one required the same licensing as larger motorcycles, these rental scooter safety issues would mostly solve themselves.

What about their business? Won’t they lose customers? Yes, probably they would, and that’s certainly unfortunate. Yet given the arguably criminal negligence involved in just handing someone a bicycle helmet and turning them out into traffic with little more than a parking lot tutorial and fresh ink on their legal waiver, maybe those customers should dry up. In the case of California Cycles, they also rent motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, so it’s not like they’re without licensed customers.

In their defense, scooter rental places like California Cycles are doing nothing wrong. That is, they’re doing nothing illegal. They’re operating within the parameters set by their state DOT. I’ve rented motorcycles myself, and I’m grateful that businesses like this exist. It’s not about picking on the rental companies, it’s about realigning our expectations about what should be legally required in order to operate a scooter on the road in the first place. That, in turn would trickle down to those who are renting scooters. There is already plenty of precedent. There is no undue burden here. There are age limits on renting a car, in addition to licensing. If I want to rent a larger motorcycle, I have to be licensed. If I want to rent an airplane, I have to be licensed. There are very good reasons I can’t walk into an airport and rent a Cessna with just my driver’s license. Likewise, there’s very good reason would-be vacationing scooter riders should also be licensed. It should be part of their vacation prep. Planning ahead. You know, like an adult.

In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping scooter rental companies from requiring motorcycle licenses on their own. In my opinion, it’d be the ethical thing to do.

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