Rising gas prices have triggered a spike in the sale of gas-sipping motor scooters, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Today, roughly 1 million of them are zipping along American roads.
Sales of scooters jumped nearly 50 percent for the first three months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010, the council says, and women are leading the buying trend.
While some models of scooters may look like toys, you'll need adequate insurance for your ride before you hit the road.
Differentiating between scooters and motorcycles isn't always easy.
Most states use engine size to differentiate between a motorcycle and scooter. In general, a scooter with an engine over 50 cubic centimeters (cc's) is classified as a motorcycle.
New "maxi" scooters equipped with 800cc engines blur the line between scooters and motorcycles, says Raleigh Floyd, a spokesman for Allstate. Scooters such as the 850cc, 75-horsepower Gilera GP 800 can reach top speeds of 124 mph, far surpassing the 30 mph maximum of older scooters.
Unlike a motorcycle, a scooter has a piece of equipment called a step-through frame as well as a platform for the operator's feet.
Cost of scooter insurance
Scooters can cost up to half as much to insure as a motorcycle, although some factors can drive premiums up or down, Floyd says. Those factors include the age, make and model of a scooter or motorcycle and the driver's traffic record. A driving safety course can reduce your premium. For scooter safety courses in your area, visit the Motorcycle Safety Foundation website.
An engine smaller than 50cc's classifies the vehicle as a moped, but it'll likely cost nearly as much to insure as a scooter, says Roger Redden, a Farmers Insurance agent in Ladera Ranch, Calif.
A good driving record and a discount for having auto and home insurance with the same company enable Victoria Farwell of Los Angeles to pay only $157 every six months to insure her 2010 Vespa LX150 scooter, compared with $600 every six months for her 2003 BMW. Her scooter insurance includes liability and collision coverage.
Farwell bought her Vespa primarily to save on money gas; the scooter gets 70 miles to the gallon. She uses her Vespa several times a week to run errands.
Tina Marabito of Wilmington, Del., also pays considerably less to insure her scooter, a Hammerhead LaVita. Insurance for the scooter costs $429 a year, almost half that of the $828 a year she pays to insure her car.
Coverage to consider
Each state treats a scooter the same way it would treat a motorcycle or car, according to Floyd. Since the scooter must be licensed with the state, it's subject to the same financial liability requirements that a motorcycle or car is.
Liability coverage is mandatory for a scooter in every state but two (Iowa and New Hampshire); if you're in an accident, it covers bodily injury to you and others as well as property damage. "In most states, this includes coverage for any potential passenger you would have on your scooter," Floyd says.
Because a scooter normally is much cheaper than a car, a scooter is fairly inexpensive to insure for optional collision and comprehensive coverage, according to Floyd. Allstate and other auto insurers recommend this coverage in case your scooter is stolen or damaged.
"If you get only the state minimum for liability, it won't be nearly enough if you get into an accident," Redden says.
To stay safe -- and stay out of trouble with your insurer -- following these tips for when you're scooting around town:
• Scooters are quieter and less visible than motorcycles, making defensive driving a must.
• Smaller, thinner scooter tires make them more vulnerable to damage involving potholes and other road hazards.
• Wear protective clothing, even in warmer weather, such as heavy denim and certified helmets.
• Know your local laws when it comes to riding a scooter on a biking or walking path.