This month, start-up companies Bird and Lime added Columbus to the list of cities with access to their electric scooters. Bird and Lime are the latest companies to introduce innovative and disruptive technologies that challenge longstanding laws, which can be slow to adapt to technological change. While these scooters may be a new and exciting transportation alternative, questions over their legal status under current law makes it difficult to discern whether their time in Columbus will be short-lived.
Both companies’ scooters fall under the broad category of “motor vehicles” as defined by Ohio law, and riding them on sidewalks is prohibited throughout the state. However, additional legal requirements and restrictions surrounding their use will remain unclear until city and state officials determine a more specific category for the scooters. Currently, the scooters do not conform to any of the existing categories of motor vehicles set out in state and local law. For example, under state law, they are not “motorcycles” because they lack a seat or saddle, nor are they “low-speed” or “under-speed” vehicles, as they only have two wheels.
Depending on how these scooters are categorized, state license and title requirements could drive Bird and Lime out of Ohio entirely. If the scooters are deemed “mopeds” or “motorized bicycles,” the Ohio BMV will require registration, license plates, and rear-view mirrors, all of which Bird and Lime’s scooters lack. Alternatively, if the scooters are classified as “motor scooters”—a subset of motorcycles—then operators would need a motorcycle license or an endorsement on their driver’s license, and each scooter would need to be titled. However, neither company’s scooters would qualify as “roadworthy” motor scooters under Ohio law, because they lack side and rearview mirrors, turn signals, and horns. Further, although both companies encourage users to wear helmets when operating the scooters, Ohio law also requires that motorcycle riders wear protective eyewear if the vehicle does not have a windscreen.
Some local jurisdictions have already taken an aggressive stance against Bird and Lime Scooters. For example, Upper Arlington and Bexley impounded several Bird scooters within days of their deployment in Columbus. Bexley police noted scooters parked on the sidewalk violated city of Bexley regulations involving transient dealers. It is unclear what additional steps these jurisdictions are taking against the companies.
Despite legal questions, there may be some hope for Bird and Lime’s future in Columbus. Some Ohio agencies and law enforcement organizations have been slow to criticize the scooters’ legal status. The Columbus City Attorney’s office has indicated that there is currently no license or permit requirements for motorized scooters within Columbus. This statement ignores the harder legal question of whether Bird and Lime scooters qualify as motorized scooters to begin with but it is a promising sign that the City Attorney is not taking a firm stance against the scooters. Similarly, a spokesperson for the BMV stated that the Bird and Lime scooters do not fall into any of the applicable categories for titling and registration. This statement declines to comment on what legal category the scooters do fall under, but it again hints at a more lenient approach.
Ultimately, Columbus riders should enjoy the scooters while they are here and hope that state and local legislators resolve these legal issues in favor of the new multimodal transportation option.
 O.R.C. §§ 4501.01, 4511.711.
 O.R.C. § 4501.01.
 O.R.C. § 4511.521; OAC 4501-23.
 O.R.C. § 4507.011.
 O.R.C. §§ 4513.21, 4513.23, 4513.261.
 OAC 4501-17-01.