Are mopeds and scooters treated like cars in an accident?
Mopeds and scooters represent increasingly popular modes of transportation in Colorado, especially with the expansion of ride-sharing programs. In Denver alone, scooters have traveled more than 1 million miles according to Denver Public Works.
Here at Enjuris, we’ve already looked at bicycle accidents, motorcycle accidents, and pedestrian accidents in the Centennial State, so let’s take a look at how the law treats moped and scooter accidents.
Mopeds and scooters vs. motorcycles: what’s the difference?
According to the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (CDMV):
A low-powered scooter or low-powered moped is a self-propelled vehicle with:
- Not more than 3 wheels in contact with the ground,
- No manual clutch, and
- A cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 cubic centimeters (if powered by internal combustion) or a wattage not exceeding 4,476 watts (if powered by electricity).
If a moped or scooter exceeds the parameters listed above, it’s classified as a “motorcycle.”
Colorado moped and scooter laws
If your moped or scooter is classified as a “motorcycle,” then you’ll have to comply with Colorado’s motorcycle laws. On the other hand, if your moped or scooter is considered “low powered,” then there are some specific laws you’ll need to keep in mind:
License and registration
To operate a moped or scooter in Colorado, you’ll first need to register your moped or scooter. In order to do so, you’ll need to gather the following documents:
- Application to register a low-powered scooter (Form DR 2701)
- Proof of insurance
- Valid driver’s license (must be at least 16 years old)
- $5.85 fee per scooter/moped registration
After gathering the required documents, you can submit your registration one of 2 ways:
- Visit a state-authorized low-power scooter agent (usually at the place where you purchased the scooter or moped) who will be responsible for providing the required documentation to the state, or
- Complete Form DR 2701 and submit the form to the address listed on the form.
When operating a moped or scooter, you need to follow all of the rules of the road. This means that you’ll need to stop at stop signs and red lights, obey yield signs, and stay under the speed limit.
Additionally, there are some specific rules of the road you must abide by:
- You are PROHIBITED from operating a scooter or moped on any interstate, limited-access road, or sidewalk
- You CAN drive your scooter or moped on roadways and in bicycle lanes within roadways
- You MUST ride as close to the right side of the roadway as possible
- You CAN operate your scooter or moped two-abreast, but no more
- Lane splitting is strictly PROHIBITED
- Mopeds and scooters MUST be equipped with at least 1 headlamp visible from 500 feet away
Do I need to wear a helmet?
In Colorado, you are required by law to wear a helmet with a chin strap when you’re on a scooter or moped if you’re younger than the age of 18 (even if you’re just the passenger). Anyone who is 18 years of age or older isn’t required to wear a helmet on a scooter or moped, though it’s highly encouraged for your safety in the event of a collision.
Common causes of scooter and moped accidents
Similar to bicycles, scooters and mopeds can be difficult for cars (especially large trucks) to see. As a result, scooter and moped accidents are often the result of driver inattention. Other common causes include:
- Uneven pavement
- Debris in the road
According to an article published in the Denver Post, lack of experience is another contributing factor to many accidents involving scooters and mopeds.
With ride-share programs (i.e., e-scooter companies like Lime and Razor), it takes just a few minutes to find a scooter and start riding with no knowledge or experience.
“A lot of the accidents happen in those first few rides,” says Nick Williams deputy chief of staff for Denver Public Works.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports this statement, finding that 29% of scooter crashes in Austin, Texas involved first-time riders and fewer than 1% of the riders were wearing a helmet.
Common moped and scooter injuries
It’s important to recognize that riding a moped or scooter poses a significant level of risk when sharing the road with motor vehicles. Unlike motor vehicles, there are no metal frames or safety features like airbags to protect you in a crash.
The most common moped and scooter injuries include:
Fortunately, many injuries are preventable.
According to a CDC study, almost half of all scooter injuries involve head trauma, and most of these injuries could have been prevented simply by wearing a helmet.
Liability for accidents involving scooters and mopeds in Colorado
Most personal injury claims made by scooter or moped drivers are made after a collision with a motor vehicle. To recover damages, the scooter or moped driver has to prove that the motor vehicle driver was negligent.
To prove negligence in Colorado, you must show that:
- The driver owed you a duty. All drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road.
- The driver breached their duty. To prove that a driver breached their duty, you’ll have to show that the driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care. One way to do this is to show that the driver violated a statute (for example, the driver was speeding or making an illegal turn).
- You were injured as a result of the driver’s breach. It’s not enough that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care, you must prove that this failure was the legal cause of the accident.
Of course, not all accidents are caused by motor vehicle drivers. Other responsible parties might include:
- Scooter or moped operators. Just as motor vehicle drivers owe others on the road a duty to exercise reasonable care, scooter and moped operators owe others the same duty.
- Property owners (usually a town or city). Premises liability laws require property owners to maintain their property free from dangerous conditions. If you’re injured as a result of a dangerous condition (such as a pothole), the owner of the property (often the town or city in the case of a public road) can be held liable.
- Manufacturers. If a scooter or moped accident is caused by a defective component (such as a defective mechanical part), the manufacturer may be held liable.
Comparative fault laws in Colorado
It’s not always the case that the scooter or moped operator involved in an accident is completely innocent.
Colorado is a modified comparative fault state, which means that the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is considered more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering ANY damages.
Consider the following example:
Jennifer is driving her station wagon along I-225 and texting at the same time. She doesn’t see George pull onto the interstate and she rear-ends him.
George suffers catastrophic injuries and sues Jennifer for $2 million.
The court finds that Jennifer is 70% at fault for texting while driving, but also finds that George is 30% at fault for operating a moped on an interstate (which is prohibited in Colorado). Because Colorado is a modified comparative fault state, George is only able to recover $1.4 million (70% of $2 million).
Tips for staying safe
Despite the risks, scooters and mopeds can be cheap, environmentally-friendly, and lots of fun. Here are some tips to stay safe on the road:
- Wear a helmet. The CDC estimates that helmets reduce the risk of death by 37%.
- Drive smart. Just like motorcyclists, it’s important to stay alert and anticipate what vehicles around you are going to do well in advance.
- Be visible. It’s hard for motor vehicle drivers to see scooters and mopeds. You can help make yourself visible by wearing bright clothes and reflectors.
- Avoid blind spots. Not sure where all the blind spots are located? Here’s a helpful guide.