Avoiding Scooter Accidents in San Francisco and What to Do If You’re In One

Many people have turned to scooters as a more fuel-efficient and convenient way to commute. (Did someone say – easy parking!!?) These modern scooters may be the spiritual successors to the mopeds that were so popular in the seventies but they're a completely different machine altogether. They’re bigger and faster but many people still have a false impression about their safety. This disregard for the danger may in turn put you at greater risk of being involved in a scooter accident in California.

Most of these modern scooters are legally classified as motorcycle with engines large enough to propel them (and their riders) at highway speeds or faster. They’re marketed as lighter versions of motorcycles, more approachable to the public, which may entice those with no previous motorbike experience to grab the handlebars. (You don’t even have to be able to operate a clutch... just hit the throttle and you are off!) But with speed and maneuverability comes risk. Last year alone there were 701 fatal motorcycle accidents (this includes scooters) in California--making it one of the deadliest states in the nation for riders. (Note that many states don’t even have helmet laws like California, but they have less deaths per year.) As a California personal injury attorney, I am seeing more and more scooter accidents in my office.

Legal Classifications of Scooters

In order to get a clearer picture of scooter accidents, it may help to clear up some confusion about classification. Legally speaking, a scooter is a two-wheeled vehicle (gas or electric) with a top speed of 20 MPH. That's not the type of vehicle a normal San Franciscan pictures when they hear the word “scooter.” In fact, many people picture the sleek, high powered machines with 150—260cc engines—comparable to full-sized motorcycles. And, indeed, that’s exactly what they are—motorcycles with “step-through frames”.

Classifications of Scooters:

  • Motorcycle—150cc engine or bigger and no more than 3 wheels. Must be registered and driver must have motorcycle license.
  • Motor-Driven Cycles—149cc or less. Has to be registered and operator must have motorcycle license.
  • Three-Wheeled Motorcycles—Includes trikes or Can-Am Spyders as well as motorcycles with sidecars. These only require Class C driver’s licenses, not specialized motorcycle licenses.
  • Mopeds—2 or 3 wheeled device capable of no more than 30MPH with fully operative pedals for human propulsion.

Crash Data for Scooter Accidents

While crash data does not separate “scooters” from motorcycles, it does separate motorcycles involved in crashes by engine size. One might expect larger bikes to have higher accident rates. They go faster, are heavier (harder for inexperienced riders to control), and anecdotal reports link faster motorcycles with “extreme motorcycling.” (Since 2006 there has been a dramatic increase in reports of motorcyclists engaging in reckless behavior including cyclists popping wheelies on the interstate and “gangs” of dirt bikers “terrorizing” NYC streets.)

However, actual crash data shows that the number and type of motorcycle accidents is spread nearly evenly across engines size—meaning any bike, including scooters, poses an equal risk to drivers, riders, and pedestrians on the street. We live in an extremely dense area, and it is not often that we can even get into the higher speed limits, so it doesn’t take a fast scooter or motorcycle to get you into trouble.

Mike D.


"I was in a serious motorcycle accident that was not my fault. It has been a stressful and scary year. But one of the comforts through it all has been the services that Sally Morin provided. While I was focused on my health, she was taking care of everything else."

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How to Avoid the Most Common Types of Scooter Accidents 

Motorcycle crash data can be used to interpret scooter accident data. Doing so lets us see the most common types of scooter accidents are:

  • Head On Collisions – Representing up to 56% of all motorcycle or scooter collisions with other vehicles.
  • Cars Turning Left – Representing up to 43% of all motorcycle or scooter accidents. (Motorists seem to have extreme difficulty seeing the “single headlight” of scooters and motorcycles coming straight from the opposite direction.)
  • Collisions with Stationary Objects – Accounting for 25% of motorcycle and scooter fatalities.

In order to avoid these types of crashes, scooter riders should:

  • Take approved safety courses—learn how to handle their machines
  • Always wear a helmet
  • Avoid speeding
  • Avoid “lane splitting” (although this is legal, it is risky business!)
  • Always watch for turning traffic (even when you clearly have the right of way)

What to Do After a Scooter Accident

Sometimes no amount of preparation or safe riding can keep you from getting into an accident—especially one that’s the fault of another driver. In cases like this riders need to take certain steps to safeguard their legal rights to compensation.

  1. Seek Medical Attention—The expense of medical treatment should not be your primary concern. Head trauma is common in scooter crashes even when riders wear helmets. Concussion and internal bleeding can take hours or even days to manifest. Your best bet is to accept medical treatment and visit a hospital if necessary.
  2. Collect Crash Data at the Scene—It is important to get all the information you can as quickly as possible. Of course, if you’re severely injured that may be difficult. If you can’t do it, ask a friend or family (or your personal injury lawyer – if you get one) to help collect:
    1. The other driver’s information (name, registration, insurance info, license plate number, etc.)
    2. Pictures of your vehicle and that of the other driver.
    3. Pictures from the accident scene (especially documenting any environmental factors such as daylight levels, obstructions, or road signs).
    4. The name of any police officers responding to the crash.
  3. Don’t Give Information to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company—Adjusters are trained to ask questions that may lead you into accepting some or all of the responsibility for the accident. Don’t fall into that trap. The only thing you should give away is your insurance information.

Contact a Scooter Accident Lawyer

Getting the financial compensation you deserve can be tricky. In order to do so, you may have to prove liability in a court of law. While the police accident report goes a long way toward aiding your case, it may not be enough. A lawyer specializing in scooter accidents in California knows what you need to get the compensation you deserve.

As a long-time rider, I am very familiar with how scooter accident occur, how motorists try to evade liability and the challenges of my clients who are injured in scooter accidents. From the age of 15, I rode a moped (yes, it was yellow and had pedals ;), then a 50cc scooter, then a 150cc Honda Elite, then finally a motorcycle when I moved to San Francisco to study law. After seeing too many people close to me get injured, I became a personal injury attorney and am devoted to helping people injured on two wheels in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you or someone you care about may need to file a scooter accident claim, find out now if we can help by getting a FREE online case evaluation.