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Who administers vehicle safety regulations?

In the USA, nearly all safety regulations regarding motor vehicles are administered by the federal government through the US Department of Transportation (DOT). This agency, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decides safety standards for all new vehicles sold new or otherwise imported into the USA. Some of their concerns include braking and lighting systems, tires and rims, crash-worthiness and other such concerns, evaluated according to publicly available standards. Unfortunately, these standards were not developed in conjunction with other countries, so often vehicles certified as safe in Japan or Europe (for example) will still not typically meet more stringent US standards. This is why manufacturers must make a conscious decision if they want to market their scooters in the USA and if so, to make whatever modifications are necessary to meet DOT concerns and regulations. This is usually a time-consuming and expensive process, unless less stringent standards have been assigned for that vehicle class, such as has been done for mopeds. All government agencies in the USA either classify scooters as mopeds (if they're under 50cc and otherwise qualify) or by default, as motorcycles. There are no scooter regulations per se. Additionally, individuals wishing to personally import vehicles not already DOT approved must follow the rules governing personal importation of non-conforming vehicles. [12/99]

Who administers regulations regarding vehicle emissions?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal bureau delegated the task of enforcing American laws governing air, water and land pollution. This agency sets standards for all motor vehicles sold and imported into the USA for tailpipe emissions and this typically affects scooters. EPA standards are much more lax for vehicles under 50cc (which are usually, but not always, considered mopeds) than for larger vehicles. Contrary to popular myth, the EPA has never "outlawed" two-stroke engines in the USA of any size, though as a practical matter, most of them above 50cc can no longer meet the standards and thus are not allowed to be imported or manufactured, though obviously technical advancements may get around that problem. Further, each of the various 50 states has the right to impose stricter emission standards then the federal government, but never more lax ones. In particular, the most populous US state (about 10% the US total), California, has chosen to utilize this option, because of severe air quality problems. This is why vehicles must typically be certified as either "CA compliant" (California only) or "US compliant" (the other 49 states). It should be further noted that other US states, especially in the northeast (NY, MA, CT, etc.) are planning to adopt the stricter CA standards on emissions, though it is unclear at this time how or even if this will affect scooters (because they may exempt motorcycles and mopeds). [12/99]

Who oversees vehicle import regulations?

Anything imported into or out of the USA must pass through the domain of the US Customs Service. Among other functions, this agency enforces all applicable US laws governing the import of motor vehicles like scooters. seeks to stop shipments that are intended to somehow circumvent current US laws. They also collect taxes called duties on shipments generally not intended for personal use, as when scooters are shipped in freight containers for resale. All scooters imported into the USA, whether for resale or personal use, must "clear" US Customs, which means this agency must certify the shipment contains goods in conformance with current US laws. Often this becomes a major issue when someone wishes to personally import a scooter into the USA. The proper procedure is to have paperwork for customs officials that certifies the vehicle meets all applicable regulations for safety and emissions. Often individuals do not have such documentation and then they have two choices. First, they can utilize licensed agents to make these certifications. Though exact figures are difficult to obtain, it appears these agents most commonly handle very exotic motorcycles and because of this, they typically charge fees ranging from $1000 and up. The other alternative is for the individual to collect all the proper documentation while their scooter sits in a US Customs Bureau warehouse. Some people get around these issues by buying from dealers in Europe and paying to disassemble them and then ship them to the USA as "parts". Many of the larger European shops can and will do this for you. If you are buying "parts" for personal use, there is typically no tax or duty. However, it's important that the shipment be broken into at least three boxes, one being the bare frame, another the engine, and the third would be everything else. Anything less than three boxes would make it appear you're not really shipping parts, but simply a disassembled vehicle masquerading as parts. Any competent scooter shop in the USA can then re-assemble the scooter for you, assuming you don't want to do it yourself. It's legal to buy new parts and it's legal to make scooters from parts, it's just not legal to break down new scooters to get around US Customs regulations in this way, so you should consider the moral and legal ramifications of this approach. The most common penalty for being caught smuggling illegal scooters into the US is forfeiture (destruction of the scooter) and fines. Depending on the flagrancy of the violation (accidental versus willful), probation may also be imposed. Imprisonment is only sought for repeat offenders. [12/99]

Who administers vehicle licensing & registration?

In the USA, all regulations governing the licensing & registration of both operators and their vehicles are strictly handled by each of the 50 states or various territorial governments exclusively. There is no federal jurisdiction in this area and thus there are more than 50 answers to many common questions about these kinds of regulations. That said, there are some generalities that can be stated. First, there is no US state or territory that specifically regulates "scooters", but instead, each at least classifies them as either mopeds or as motorcycles. Some states and territories further classify motorcycles according to engine size, but again, such distinctions do not take scooters specifically into account. [12/99]

SCOOTERS IN THE USA -- GENERAL:

What are the current trends of the scooter market in the USA?
Perhaps the most interesting news of late is the re-introduction in November 2000 of Vespa scooters to America, through their new subsidiary, Piaggio USA. Read the AP news report as re-published by MotorcycleWorld.com. Piaggio USA is initially just selling their 150cc Vespa ET4 and 50cc Vespa ET2 models, though they promise more models will eventually be imported. Following fast on their heels, Honda USA is introducing in Feb '01 their new 250cc Reflex scooter model, which seems to finally be the long awaited replacement for the venerable, but aging Helix. Yamaha is going the vintage route by introducing their 50cc "Vino" model in Feb '01. And to keep it all interesting, Bajaj Auto of India has created a new American subsidiary called Bajaj USA to sell three models (including two 150cc metal-bodied scooters styled like the Vespa PX150) beginning spring or summer of 2001. This is all in addition to the many new scooter models already being sold in the USA by Aprilia, Derbi, Hyosung, Italjet, Kymco, Sundiro, Yamaha and many others. See the next section for more details. [1/01]

Why are there so many more models sold in Europe than the US?

The explanation largely comes down to the fact that scooters are far more popular in Europe than in the USA. Europe has very high fuel prices, congested city streets with limited parking and a long history of accepting scooters as respectable transportation, which all leads to far greater interest in scooters. As a result of this greater utility, Europeans are typically willing to spend more on their scooters than are Americans, who tend to view high scooter prices in Europe with either horror or amusement. Also, safety and emissions regulations between Europe and the USA vary greatly, which means scooters legal in Europe often require extensive modifications to be made legal for the American market. Most scooter makers in the world simply can not justify the expense of meeting these regulations given the relatively weak US market demand. It is also expensive to create new dealer networks in the US market presently. Additionally, the US media market for advertising is among the most expensive in the world, adding to the expense to promote new makes and models and the vast expanse of the US creates issues of transport costs and market penetration, which makes bringing new scooters all the more daunting. Lastly, the US is notorious around the world for litigating the safety of two-wheelers and many manufacturers get nervous about that when looking to enter the market.

What will insurance and registration cost?

Though this is an extremely common question, there is no simple answer. It depends first and foremost on how your scooter will be classified. If as a moped, this will result in the lowest possible fees in all cases. It will also depend on your driving history, where you live and whatever other policies your insurance carrier will have with you. Most carriers discount for mulitple policies, as when several family members carry policies from them or when you carry both auto and scooter insurance together. It should be noted that in nearly all cases, you will either register and insure your scooter as a moped or as a motorcycle and not as a "scooter". Whenever in doubt, inquire at your local registration bureau (usually the same one that handles automobiles) and with your local insurance agent. It is especially difficult to predict insurance costs and it is usually best to shop around for the best coverage at the lowest cost.

How can I get a title when the seller has none?

There are several companies that exist just to help obtain titles when the seller has none. Among the more popular ones would be International Title Service and Broadway Title Service. All title companies use the most lenient state title laws (currently New Hampshire and Alabama) to produce transferable titles. Technically, you "sell" them your scooter, they title it in one of these states, and then "re-sell" it to you. There have been recent reports that some states are now refusing Alabama titles by these services, so you might want to check that out in your case. And of course, all states have procedures you can follow to make up for a lost title, though often they are lengthy and complicated. Lastly, it should be noted that "title" is a certificate of ownership and that some states do NOT require a title to register your scooter. Please check with your local motor vehicle bureau for the regulations applicable to your state.

What is the minimum engine size needed for highways in the US?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no one single standard that governs all federal interstate highways as to minimum speed. Nearly all speed regulation in the USA is done by individual state authorities, and thus there are 50 different answers to this question. In general, you must have at least a 150cc engine to operate on any major highway in the USA, along with the ability to not impede traffic, no matter how fast a speed that may require. In most cases, it's highly advisable to have at least 200cc for any highway driving at all and preferably more.

Can I import a model not sold in the USA?

Theoretically, the answer often is "yes", but with major reservations. First, all scooter models never sold in the USA typically have never passed regulations governing safety (administered by the DOT) or emissions (administered by the EPA), so these two major issues must be dealt with before even making any arrangements with overseas dealers. If the vehicle is used and already owned by the person seeking to import it, often the regulations are easier, though not if this model has never been legal for US import. Overall, it's much easier to buy a Grey market, scooter then to somehow import one yourself. Because even Americans commonly confuse the dividing lines between state and federal jurisdiction over motor vehicles in the USA and are thus confused which government agencies and at what levels will handle the various issues involved in personal importation, the maze that must be navigated is rather daunting.

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