You can do a lot of things in Wisconsin; in fact, many find the state laws to be a little relaxed when compared to other states.  But that doesn't mean that it's a lawless territory and a free for all.

As so-called 'alternative modes of transportation' become popular, it's a good time to review the ins and outs of the legalities of their operation.  With rising gas prices, concerns for the environment, and just a general attitude towards 'getting outside and enjoying the fresh air', many have parked their full-size vehicles (like cars and trucks) in favor of smaller methods of transportation.

One of those smaller means of getting around - mopeds - have started to get popular again.  I've started to see more of them on streets in the past year or two than I have in many years. Although they've been around since the early 1900's, they gained popularity in the 1950's, and by the 1970's they were trendy.

Just to be clear - a moped is a two-wheeled vehicle that exists in that middle ground between a manual pedal bike and a full gas-powered motorcycle.  By true definition, a moped is a "pedal cycle with engine and pedals" - even if those pedals are never used.  However, as design efficiencies have progressed, most mopeds don't include the actual pedals any more (they weren't really used anyway). In fact, some agencies include newer-design scooters in their classification of mopeds, but that might be stretching the category a bit.

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According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a moped is defined as follows:

"A moped, sometimes called a "scooter", is a motor vehicle with the engine as an integral part of the vehicle.  A moped engine may not exceed 50 cubic centimeters (CCs) in size with an automatic transmission, or 130 CCs in size if it is a bicycle type vehicle with fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power."

That definition by the Wisconsin DMV is further summarized: "Traditionally, mopeds had fully operative pedals but modern mopeds are usually more like small motorcycles with an automatic transmission and no pedals".

As far as operation goes, Wisconsin allows "anyone with a Class D valid drivers license" to drive mopeds on roadways in the state.  However, it "is not legal to operate a moped with only a valid instruction permit (temps)".  They agency also makes allowances for people who "don't otherwise qualify for a drivers license due to physical challenges" to apply for a Special Restricted License that would allow you to operate them.

In regards to the actual moped itself, it must be registered with the State of Wisconsin in order to be operated on roadways - similar to a car or truck.

So - where can you operate a moped in Wisconsin?  This is the area where you need to be careful to make sure you are following the laws.

Wisconsin driving laws allow for the following:

"You may ride your model on any roadway except freeways or roads where mopeds are specifically prohibited.  You may not operate a moped on sidewalks, along fence lines, or off the traveled surface of the roadway."

That issue about freeways is a surprise to some people.  Even though top speed for a moped is a lot less than highway speed, I have personally witnessed mopeds traveling along I-35 in the Twin Ports.  In fact, I once saw a moped crossing the Blatnik Bridge - which would definitely be against the law.

Here are a few other restrictions and considerations about legal operation of mopeds - direct from the Wisconsin DMV website:

  • Mopeds are subject to all traffic laws - just like any other motor vehicle
  • Traffic signals and stop signs must be obeyed
  • The operator of a moped must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks
  • School zone etiquette (i.e. slowing down, not passing school buses with the stop arm out, etc) applies
  • Mopeds are entitled to a full traffic lane
  • A moped can be operated on a bike path - as long as there are no signs specifically prohibiting them
  • Parking:  Mopeds can park in a spot that is designated for other motor vehicles.  However they can also utilize bicycle racks - even sidewalks, as long as there are no signs specifically prohibiting them
  • Mopeds are designed to transport only one person.  It is illegal in the State of Wisconsin to carry a passenger on a moped

A few final notes about mopeds and their operation:  Wisconsin does not require helmets to be worn while operating one.  But they do require that mopeds meet federal emission, safety, and equipment standards.  Brakes, lights, and turn signals must be operational.

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