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  • What is a California Motorized Vehicle v. Motor Vehicle?

    What is a California Motorized Vehicle v. Motor Vehicle?

There are two distinct types of non-human-powered vehicles in California. Since the last 2022 Legislative Session, California Vehicle Code Section 415 (a) A defines a:

  • “Motor vehicle” is a vehicle that is 100% “self-propelled.
  • A “motorized vehicle” includes a self-propelled wheelchair, electric bicycle, motorized tricycle, or motorized quadricycle and is operated by a person who, because of physical disability, is otherwise unable to move about as a pedestrian. In California, the law to operate motorized vehicles on the roadway differs from driving actual motor vehicles since you do not need a license or registration for a motorized vehicle, unlike a moped that travels more than 30 mph. And, of course, under the Vehicle Code, pedestrians need no license as they retain all the rights to travel on foot down the sidewalk path without a license plate.

Right away, you can see that a motor vehicle and a motorized vehicle depend a lot on the purpose of the vehicle. A motorized vehicle can be more easily understood as a get-around-the-town vehicle. In contrast, a motor vehicle is more for long trips across great distances and with larger payloads. A local ordinance will often come into play as to where and when you can

Our personal injury attorneys have compiled some information, not just from the Vehicle Code, but from other sources, to help readers get acquainted with the transportation laws and clear up the doubts of many who are confused about motorized vehicles v. motor vehicles.

Federal Definition of Motorized Vehicle?

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (initially enacted in 1966), administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), provides the federal definition of a motorized vehicle in the United States.

According to this definition, a motorized vehicle is defined as:

“Any vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated exclusively on a rail or rails.”

This definition encompasses many motorized vehicles, including passenger cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, and other vehicles designed for on-road use. It even encompasses a non-street, non-freeway use car, trail bike, or another two-wheeled vehicle. It does not include vehicles primarily operated on rails, such as trains or streetcars.

It’s important to note that individual states may have additional definitions or classifications for motorized vehicles for the purpose of licensing, registration, operation, and other regulatory requirements.

What are the types of motor vehicles?

Motor vehicles can be broadly categorized into several types based on their design, purpose, and characteristics.

Here are some common types of motor vehicles:

  1. Passenger Cars: These vehicles are designed primarily for non commercial transportation of goods, including groceries, etc., and to carry passengers. But Uber and Lyft have made greater commercial use of these vehicles as part of their ridesharing program. Small cars like this typically have seating for up to nine occupants, including the driver, and are intended for personal or family use.
  2. Trucks: Trucks are vehicles designed for transporting goods and materials or can even mount a camper over the bed as a place to sleep. They come in various sizes and configurations, such as small pickup trucks that can pull a trailer, medium-sized delivery trucks, larger box trucks, and herculean tractor-trailers with loud Jake Brakes increasing the noise level to adjacent properties like homes and businesses. Engines for propelling small trucks are usually gasoline-fueled, whereas larger trucks are diesel engine powered, with modern variants relying on electricity from battery cells.
  3. SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) are characterized by their larger size, higher ground clearance, and off-road capabilities. They often provide more space and seating capacity than passenger cars, making them suitable for passenger transport and cargo carrying.
  4. Vans: Vans are designed to transport people or cargo. They usually have a boxy shape with a higher roof and spacious interior, making them suitable for commercial purposes, passenger transport, or recreational use.
  5. Motorcycles: Motorcycles are two-wheeled vehicles powered by an engine. They offer lightweight and simple transportation, often preferred for maneuverability and efficiency. Debris, even a tiny pebble, can cause a biker to lose control, making them dangerous compared to enclosed conveyances.
  6. Buses: Buses are larger vehicles designed for the transportation of multiple passengers. They come in various sizes and configurations, including city buses, coach buses, school buses, and minibusses.
  7. Recreational Vehicles (RVs) are motorized vehicles or trailers equipped with living quarters for travel, camping, or temporary accommodation purposes. They can include motorhomes, camper vans, travel trailers, and fifth-wheel trailers.
  8. Specialty Vehicles: This category includes vehicles designed for specific purposes, such as emergency vehicles (ambulances, fire trucks), construction vehicles (excavators, cranes, forklifts, bulldozers), agricultural vehicles, and more.

It’s important to note that these are general categories, and there can be further subcategories or specific vehicle types within each category. Additionally, the availability and classification of vehicle types may vary between countries and regions due to local regulations and market preferences.

What is an example of motorized transportation?

An example of motorized transportation is a passenger car, commonly called an automobile or car. Passenger cars are motor vehicles designed primarily for the transportation of people. They are typically powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor and used for personal or family transportation, commuting, and other purposes. Passenger cars allow individuals to travel efficiently and conveniently over varying distances on roads and highways.

The Vehicle Coed says: “…(b) It is unlawful for a person to operate a motorized scooter that does not meet one of the requirements of subdivision (a). 21228. Any person operating a motorized scooter upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or right edge of the roadway, except under the following situations: (a) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction. (b) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway. (c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions, including but not limited to fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to ride to the right-hand curb or right edge of the roadway.”

What Does California Law Say about Motorized Scooters?

Under the California motorized scooter laws, a motorized scooter operator may have a seat, but that is not a defining feature of it as a scooter can be a motorized scooter if it has two wheels, handlebars, a floorboard to stand on, and a motor for powering the scooter.

Although registration with the DMV and a specialized license is not required to drive a motorized scooter, you need a regular driver’s license.

The laws for driving a motorized scooter on the road are the same as with any other vehicle, but there are certain restrictions in California:

  • Drivers should wear a US Department of Transport-approved helmet (should be fitted with a fastened bicycle helmet when riding on a bikeway or public roadway)
  • Riders can only ride motorized bikes in bike lanes on roads with speed limits exceeding 25 miles per hour
  • Can not ride on sidewalks or regular bike paths unless under human power. In most cases
  • No passengers allowed except a single driver on the electric scooter
  • Motorized scooter riders can’t ride over 15 miles an hour on the road.

Senior citizens or disabled people can drive mobility scooters up to 30 miles per hour on the road. These are similar to those battery-powered models (But seated units with shopping baskets are used) at grocery stores for the benefit of disabled people.

Are There Separate Laws for Driving a Moped in California?

Yes, there are separate laws for driving a moped in California. In California, mopeds are classified as motorized bicycles and are subject to specific regulations outlined in the California Vehicle Code (CVC). Here are some key points regarding the laws for driving a moped in California:

  1. Definition of a Moped: According to the CVC, a moped is defined as a motorized bicycle with the following characteristics:
    • Two or three wheels
    • Fully operative pedals for human propulsion
    • A motor not exceeding two horsepower (or 1,500 watts) and capable of propelling the vehicle no faster than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.
  2. Driver’s License Requirement: To legally drive moped, moped riders need a motorcycle license (M1 or M2), their moped is registered with the DMV, and the relevant license plates. Upon registration, they will receive a moped ID card that they must always keep on them.
  3. Registration and Insurance: Mopeds in California must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and you will receive a license plate and registration card. Additionally, mopeds are required to have liability insurance coverage.
  4. Equipment Requirements: Mopeds must be equipped with the following:
    • Operable pedals
    • A rearview mirror
    • A horn
    • Working brakes
    • A white headlight visible from the front
    • A red reflector on the rear is visible from a distance of 500 feet
    • Adequate muffler and exhaust system to prevent excessive noise.
  5. Riding Rules: When operating a moped in California, you must follow specific rules:
    • Ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when passing, preparing for a left turn, or avoiding hazards.
    • Observe all traffic laws and signals applicable to bicycles.
    • Do not carry passengers unless the moped is designed for passengers.
    • Do not ride on sidewalks.

It’s important to note that these laws and requirements may change over time, so it’s advisable to consult the most up-to-date information from the California DMV or seek legal advice to ensure compliance with the current regulations.

Summary: Deaths tend to be more common here than with common bicycle fatalities. Under California Law, a moped is a vehicle with two or three wheels, an automatic transmission accompanied by an electric motor, and a 30 miles an hour maximum speed.

The distinction between a moped and a motorized bicycle is the speed limit, as anything having speeds slower than 20 miles per hour is not a moped. Refer to the Department of Motor Vehicle if you’re unsure what law applies to your ride.

Electric Motor and Motorized Bicycle Laws in California

You may believe that motorized bicycles and mopeds are the same. However, these are treated differently under California law. An electric motor (fewer than 750 watts) and pedals are the main requirements to determine if a vehicle is a motorized bicycle in California.

The law breaks down electric bikes into three different categories, and these are as follows:

  1. Class 1: A motor on a bicycle that activates upon pedaling and deactivates once the ride reaches 20 miles an hour
  2. Class 2: A bike (electric) that does not require pedaling to propel the rider but does not go beyond 20 miles an hour
  3. Class 3: A bicycle equipped with a speedometer and a pedal-assisted electric motor touching speeds of no more than 28 miles an hour. To qualify for driving this motorized bicycle category, the rider must be over 16.

Riders can only ride on a designated bicycle path or bike lane and can take advantage of the class II bicycle lane provided by the state.

A motorized bicycle rider must have a motorcycle license requiring the individual to pass the written and driving tests. There is no strict requirement to wear a bicycle helmet if you’re above 16 unless you are riding on your learner’s permit.

Is There a Need for Insurance to Ride Motorized Bicycles?

Many wonder whether or not getting insurance to ride motorized bicycles is required.

Motorized scooters or bicycles do not require insurance, but if you’re riding a moped, you need to get insurance with at least minimum liability coverage of:

  • $15,000 – Bodily injury coverage for one individual
  • $30,000 – Total bodily injury coverage for the accident
  • $5,000 – Property damage coverage for the accident.

To know more about motorized vehicle laws in California, contact us at (213) 596-9642 or visit any of our law offices across the state and get a free consultation with our attorneys.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.