Motor scooters are fun to ride, get up to 100 miles per gallon, squeeze into tiny parking slots and are, well, just so darn cute. All of these factors are driving up sales, especially among women.
But don't let the adorable factor make you think you're riding a toy.
"You're a motorcyclist, and you need to act like a motorcyclist," says Tim Buche, president and CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Council and Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
That means you need to take a riding course, wear the proper gear, get a motorcycle license and buy insurance to cover both your liability and any damage that occurs to the scooter.
"While scooter riders are only legally required to carry liability coverage, we would advise them to pursue full coverage," says Ricky Taranda, line manager for Allstate's emerging business.
Scooter sales zoom higher
Sales of motor scooters zoomed up almost 50 percent in the first quarter of 2011, compared to the same period last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council's Retail Sales Report.
Data from Allstate Insurance suggests women may be leading the trend. Almost three times more women than men requested quotes from Allstate for scooter insurance last year.
Buche says high gas prices fuel scooter sales, or at least allow people to rationalize buying what they always wanted. The tough economy put a damper on sales last year and in 2009, so the recent sales spike could indicate buyers feel more confident about their finances.
The line between scooters and more powerful motorcycles has blurred. Some scooters are equipped with relatively powerful 800cc engines. Generally, scooters have a step-through design and automatic transmission that distinguishes them from motorcycles. These features make scooters easier to ride and less intimidating for beginners.
But it's best to think of scooters as a type of motorcycle, Buche says. Too often novices think of scooters as motorized bicycles and ride them close to the curb, which confuses drivers and creates hazards.
Insurance and other scooter basics
Buche recommends buying a scooter that's powerful enough to keep up with traffic. Some scooters have small engines that go no more than 35 or 40 mph and are inappropriate for major thoroughfares.
Check your state's requirements – generally, states require you to register your scooter and get a motorcycle license. And don't forget about safety. Take a motorcycle riding and safety lesson and wear the proper gear for riding, including a helmet, Buche says.
Finally, don't forget about insurance.
Depending on the scooter's engine size and state insurance requirements, you may be legally required to purchase liability coverage, Liability insurance covers others' damage and injuries if you cause an accident, but doesn't provide any protection for your own property.
Taranda says most scooter policies written for Allstate are full coverage policies, which include liability, collision and comprehensive insurance. Collision insurance covers the scooter if it's damaged in a traffic accident, and comprehensive covers theft or damage from causes other than a traffic accident, such as a natural disaster.
Because scooters are less expensive than cars and motorcycles, relatively cheap Austin motorcycle insurance is available.