It can all be very confusing. What's really the difference between a moped and a scooter, and why does it matter? You're not the first person to ask. The fact is, there are substantial differences between a scooter and a moped. You would probably be surprised to know that technically motorcycles and scooters have much more in common than mopeds and scooters. You'll find out why that it is as we try to unravel the big mystery for you. Here's the scoop on the differences between scooters and mopeds.

History of the Word “Moped”

The word “moped” originally comes from two words; “motor” and “pedal.” Historically, it was a bike that was operated with both a motor and a human pedaling. Today, if a “scooter” doesn't have the possibility of pedaling, then it wouldn't officially fit the definition of the term “moped”.

The Law

yellow moped

Image via Flickr by Michael Dales

State laws are pretty much the real reason that some scooters are now labeled as mopeds, and vice versa. Mopeds are typically defined by the size of their motor, and by their maximum speed. Thus, a “scooter” without the capability of pedal power legally is defined as a "moped" as long as its motor is small enough, or slow enough, to qualify as one.

The goal of these state laws is to determine and define what type of motorized vehicles children under the legal driving age can operate by themselves. Typically, in most states, a teenager can legally ride a moped approximately two years before they're allowed to drive a car on their own. A good guideline to follow is that any motor scooter that has a 50cc motor or higher, doesn't meet the legal definition of a moped.

Unfortunately, there's still the probability that the motor scooter you're looking at, labeled as a moped, has a 50cc engine or larger. So it really is not a moped at all, neither by the derived definition of the word “moped,” nor according to any state law. 

Scooters Versus Moped

A scooter is similar to a moped because it normally has a step-through frame, so you can ride with your feet together, instead of straddling it like you would a motorcycle. However, it's really the motor that sets it apart from a moped. They begin at 50cc and go up to 150cc. This means they reach higher speeds, and usually cost more than a moped, but still are less than a motorcycle. They also typically have smaller wheels than a moped.

Riding a scooter or moped is often a stepping stone for young adults to ultimately get their A1 motorcycle license, normally at, or above, the age of 17 in many states. Riding a two-wheel vehicle is a huge responsibility and one that should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, car drivers often fail to notice two-wheeled vehicles. In addition, there is a greater risk of injury to the rider due to no seatbelts and airbags, not to mention, not being encapsulated in a steel frame. So, parents and young riders should take the time to discuss the rules of the road and set expectations.

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