One's image makes a big difference to the police. One scooter rider was stopped three times before he started wearing a helmet. Since then, the police either smile/wave or simply ignore him. Safety, of course, is another good reason for wearing a helmet.
In California, riding electric scooters on the road is (somewhat) legal. Due to similarities in weight and speed, treating electric scooters like bikes makes sense. Unfortunately, the law adds extra limitations (minimum age of 16, wear a helmet, etc.). For the actual code sections, see California Vehicle Code Section 407.5, and 21200-21202.
Electric scooters, being a new technology, are poorly addressed by current laws outside of California. New laws are required. Two California cities (Petaluma and Sebastopol) have already passed a new city ordinance making electric scooters equivalent to bicycles. Other cities are encouraged to adopt the same ordinance. In the meantime, you'll likely avoid police interference if you ride safely and courteously.
Unfortunately, a few electric scooter riders have been stopped by police. Often, the police cite the "motorized skateboard" provisions of the vehicle code. In addition to common sense and dictionary definitions, three official opinions refute that legal argument.
Electric scooters have been ruled permissible on local transit, including BART:
A folding electric scooter may be considered as incidental luggage for the purpose of boarding a BART train provided it is in the folded position and carried by the rider at all times. Riders will be warned or cited when the scooter is not folded. There is a ban on any type of gas operated scooter or bike on BART, folded or not.
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