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Skateboarding Laws USA – And How Not to Get Arrested

Skateboarding was synonymous with anti-government, “stick-it-to-the-man” culture and attitudes in its early days. Today skateboarding has a broader appeal to more law-abiding citizens as well. Since its popular inception in the 40/50’s in the USA, the government has put laws in place to ensure those who ride skateboards do so safely. But what are the skateboarding laws in the USA, and how to not get arrested when skateboarding?

Although skateboarding in the USA is not illegal, laws govern where, when, and how you may do it. Most laws address restricted areas, following traffic laws, and wearing safety equipment, but states may vary. Breaking these laws can result in a warning, fine, or arrest.

Skateboarding has seen peaks and dips in its popularity. The growth necessitated legislation to govern skateboarders, and most states have similar laws. But what are some popular skateboarding states’ laws? Are there any strange laws? And what to do if you’ve broken the law?

skateboard laws in the USA

Skateboarding Across The USA And The Law 

Skateboarding originated in the states back in the late 1940s early 1950s, when Californian surfers decided to take their antics to the streets instead of on the waves. 

Skateboarding developed from a fun pastime into a culture of its own, with very specific individuals drawn to this lifestyle.

From the 80s onwards, skateboarding became associated with punk rock, anti-establishment, rebellion, etc. As the popularity of skateboarding increased and more skateboards peppered the skate parks and streets (often with slogans like “Skate and Destroy”), the need to govern skateboarding became apparent.

By the late 1980s and during the 90s, skateboarders were particularly disliked, often treated as common criminals, shunned by the general public and authorities. This disapproval became such an issue that they introduced legislation to ban skateboarders from public areas, institute curfews on skateboarding, and issue “no-skateboarding” tickets and fines.

Although there was still a stigma surrounding skateboarding (as recently as 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice still considered skateboarding a “problem of disorderly youth”), authorities realized by the early 2000s that skateboarders were not terrorists.

With these revelations, the enforcement of certain laws relaxed, and arrests and fines were less frequent. Some of the laws from that era are only in law books, while others are still applicable today.

General Skateboarding Rules And Regulations Across The USA

The USA is one of the largest centers for skateboarding, with an estimated 8.87 million skateboarders in 2020 (according to Statista). With so many people on skateboards, it is necessary to control what is/is not permissible. 

Most skateboarding laws today are aimed at the safety of skateboarders, other public space users, and the rights of property owners.

Various states tend to have different laws and ordinances regarding skateboarding. 

Some of these laws include:

  • Health and Safety. These regulations include skateboarders wearing the correct safety equipment while skateboarding.
  • Traffic laws. Often keeping skateboarders off the road and occasionally the sidewalk/bicycle lanes
  • Laws concerning cyclists, roller bladders, and pedestrians also often pertain to skateboarders.
  • Skateboarding-specific laws restrict or prohibit various aspects of skateboarding, including the time it’s allowed, the location, the manner of skateboarding, and the individual’s age.

Where And When Is Skateboarding Prohibited?

Sometimes laws restrict; other times, they completely prohibit skateboarding. Some areas where skateboarding is not allowed include:

  • Commercial properties/commercially zoned areas/business districts. These are areas designated for businesses, banks, office parks, and other industries related to commerce. These areas are deemed unsuitable for skateboarding.

Most states agree on keeping skateboarders out of these areas. They feel like closing million-dollar deals may not be complemented by rail grinds and kickflips in the parking lot. Examples of these areas are Auburn in Alabama Eau Claire in Wisconsin.

  • Some states don’t allow you to ride on the streets (like Canton in Ohio), while others limit you in which times and at what speeds you may travel.

These regulations are a bit controversial. In some major cities with busy roads, it makes sense to keep skateboarders off the road as a safety risk. However, semi- unused roads are probably the best places for skateboarders to go in quieter areas.  

Some states and cities allow you to skateboard in designated skate parks only.

  • Some cities, like Biddeford in Maine, prohibit skateboards on sidewalks. Other states prohibit skateboarding on sidewalks along specific streets (e.g., Main Street Victoria, Virginia).
  • The time of skateboarding may also have restrictions. Certain states (like Akron, Ohio) prohibit skateboarding after dark. So no scenic full moon rides in that city. 
  • The manner of skateboarding. Whether you are commuting on a skateboard or executing tricks can also determine whether you are breaking a by-law or not. 

Often riding a skateboard on a sidewalk or bike lane is already pushing your luck (in some areas), but trying to ollie over benches, grind rails, or execute some other trick may be prohibited

Some states, like Tennessee, stipulate that when riding skateboards, roller skates, or scooters, they must do so in single file. It’s a pity nothing is mentioned about cyclists.

Liability And Property Owners Laws

Can the landowner be held liable if a skateboarder is injured while skateboarding on private or public property?

Laws, in this vein, are designed to protect property owners from these unfortunate but often expected occurrences.

Different states classify skateboarding liability under different categories. Some consider skateboarding as “hazardous recreational activities,” while others lump skateboarding together with general immunity laws, and others single out skateboarding and indemnify property owners against individuals participating in it particularly.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Due to the high amount of injuries every year (over 25 000, of which the majority are children younger than 15 years old), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a list of guidelines, which, although not laws, are from an authoritative source. 

These suggestions include:

  • Don’t ride in the street.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks.
  • No more than one person per skateboard.
  • While moving, don’t hold onto a vehicle (a car, bicycle, bus, truck, or other).
  • Protective skateboarding gear should be worn at all times. This gear includes helmets, knee and elbow pads, and proper footwear.

Popular Skateboarding States In The U.S. And Their Laws

Although skateboarding is not limited to only the most popular states and cities, there are too many cities across the USA to delve into each. 

Doing a little research for the state, town/city you live in and determining what is permissible and what is prohibited will therefore go a long way to assisting you.

Aside from the general prohibition and restriction laws, there are often additional laws per state.

Below, we look at some of the more popular skateboarding areas and some of the regulations they have.

Skateboarding Laws: California

California is one of the most popular skateboarding states (no surprise if skateboarding originates from surfing). 

Several by-laws pertain to California as a whole, including:

  • Anybody under 18 needs to wear a helmet while skateboarding on streets/in bicycle lanes.
  • Motorized skateboards on streets, sidewalks, bicycle lanes/paths, or highways are prohibited.
  • While skateboarding in a skate park, skateboarders need to wear a helmet and knee and elbow pads.

Each city generally has its legislation as well.

Los Angeles

  • An interesting law (which begs you to wonder why they originally implemented it) is that skateboarding through a courthouse and library is illegal.
  • The prohibition of downhill boarding, or “bombing.” 

According to this law, Skateboarders are required to follow basic road rules, like sticking to the right lane, yielding to other road users and pedestrians, stopping at intersections and stop signs, and traveling at speeds under 40 mph. 

San Francisco

Another incredible skateboarding destination is San Francisco. Although it ranks as one of the most popular for skateboarding in the U.S., some additional laws govern those participating, including:

  • No skateboarding on any city street.
  • No skateboarding in business districts (commercial zones) at any time either.
  • In areas not defined as commercial districts, skateboarding cannot be conducted on a sidewalk between 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • Skateboarding is prohibited at/in/around public transportation, like streetcars, cable cars, motor coaches, trolley coaches, or their stations.
  • For those tempted to take scenic trips while boarding, unfortunately, no skateboarding is allowed in the Yerba Buena Gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden, Arboretum, Conservatory Valley, South Beach Park, Rincon Park, and wherever indicated by signage that skateboarding is prohibited.

Santa Cruz

Some prohibited areas in Santa Cruz include:

  • Tennis courts on public property.
  • Construction sites.
  • The entirety of Soquel Village, Zone A.
  • Areas with “no skateboarding signs.”

Skateboarding Laws: Miami, Florida

Florida is another skateboarding hotspot, with Miami taking the cake.

Most of the general legislation involves prohibited areas and wearing safety gear; however, some other legislation in this state includes:

  • No skateboarding at any police station. It is a bit nonsensical to do this anyway.
  • Florida also legislates that all liability rests on individuals skateboarding. 

Skateboarding Laws: New York

For this one, N.Y. state and N.Y. city are consolidated. In New York, skateboarders need to obey the traffic laws (yielding, stopping, etc.). 

Some other laws concerning New York include:

  • Skateboarders need to remain in single file while skateboarding in a group. 
  • Aside from the usual helmets and trespassing, it is illegal to skate recklessly in New York, thereby endangering others and their possessions in the vicinity.
  • Using a self-balancing skateboard is prohibited.
  • When carrying items, they may not obstruct your view while skateboarding.

Skateboarding Laws: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Back in the early 90s, skateboarding was banned in certain areas of Philadelphia (Love Park), but today, Philadelphia has a relatively large skateboarding contingent, with many of the same rules regarding skateboarding on public property (don’t do it unless there is signage saying otherwise), no defacing memorials/statues, and the like.

Skateboarding Laws: Portland, Oregon

Skateboarding on any street in Portland was illegal, but since 2000, new legislation has legalized this beloved sport/activity/lifestyle.

In “modern times,” skateboarders share the same recognition and responsibilities as cyclists. They need to obey the traffic laws, and children 16 years and younger need to wear a helmet.

Downtown sidewalks are mostly off-limits, and those skateboarders riding at night need to have adequate lights and reflectors.

Skateboarding Laws: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to skateboarding. Although skateboarding is growing in popularity, the police and security guards don’t seem pleased when skateboarders are about.

A specific law of contention prohibits skateboarding in the commercial zoned district/ business district (this includes streets, parking lots, and sidewalks). 

Skateboarding Laws: Las Vegas, Nevada 

What to do in Vegas? The list is pretty endless, and included on that list is skateboarding. 

Some laws for Vegas (and Nevada in general) include:

  • No riding down the Vegas Strip. Although it may not be illegal, it’s not recommended due to many cars that aren’t looking out for skateboarders. Streets, in general, are no-go areas.
  • Some sidewalks and properties which display “no skateboarding” signage are also no-go areas.

Some Peculiar Skateboarding Laws

The majority of laws governing skateboarding are mostly sensical; however, there are several peculiar laws out there. These include:

  • In New Jersey, motorists should honk before passing skateboarders and other road users. This law would probably do more damage than good, distracting skateboarders.
  • In Tennessee, you are prohibited from skateboarding while listening to the radio. We’ll assume this extends to earphones in general.
  • In Ohio, a law stipulates you need to inform the police before skateboarding. Imagine phoning the local station before every skateboarding session.
  • A law that has been debunked as false, but is still often quoted, is that you need a license to skateboard in Florida. Skateboarders are considered pedestrians, so no license is required.

Deviations From The Law And Consequences When Skateboarding

With all these laws, what does it mean when you break them, and what are some of the penalties for doing so?

Once you have contravened a law, whether you are given a warning, fined, arrested, or ignored, once you have contravened a law depends on several variables.

  • What exactly are you doing? Was it an infraction or a misdemeanor? Some “crimes” are more severe than others. 

Trespassing or the destruction of property, for example, is more serious, while riding without all the protective equipment may get you a fine.

  • Is it your first-time offense? Repeated offenders will not get off as easily each time they contravene a law.
  • Who is the law enforcement official? Unfortunately, even the police are human, which means if the officer is having a bad day, you may not get off with just a warning.

Ways To Not Get Arrested While Skateboarding In The USA

The best way to not be arrested is not to break the law or seem to be breaking the law.

You can only benefit from arming yourself with knowledge. So instead of bellowing out ” Skateboarding is not a crime” at the next cop or security guard giving you a hard time for “defacing public property,” make sure you know what is legal and what is prohibited in your state.

Once you’ve determined what you can do, it’s important to know your rights. The most critical and valuable is the right to remain silent. This knowledge could save you plenty of future headaches. If you are not under arrest, don’t say anything more than your identification and residential information. 

When under arrest, invoke the fourth amendment rights (your right to remain silent and speak to a legal representative). 

If you operate within the extent of the law and remain polite without antagonizing the authorities, you are likely to be left alone. If you are obstinate, difficult, and push your luck, they will come down harder on you.

This courteousness extends to security guards as well. They are people with their issues, but they have a job to ensure the safety of people and property in the area they are based in.

Although security guards are legally allowed to arrest when felonies and misdemeanors are committed, they prefer to call the police (litigation issues). Therefore, if you reach an impasse with a security guard, it is better to leave the area than to stick around for the cops to show because they can prevent you from leaving.

Although it’s tempting, don’t trespass and skateboard in an area that stipulates “no skateboarding.” 

The power of this sign is that, in court, the argument “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to” does not hold up. Even if there is no sign and you jump a fence to get in, things won’t be in your favor in a courtroom, and you will be held liable

Conclusion

Although skateboarding is not illegal, some laws need to be followed. While most apply to safety wear, prohibited areas, and the manner of skateboarding, some laws are quite peculiar. When confronted by an authority figure, politeness, respect, and patience are essential to not escalating a situation, while remaining silent is golden if you’re arrested.

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