I am excited to be able to help people get by with their ebike journey. Here at ebikewizard.com, I share my expertise and over a decade of experience riding, testing, and troubleshooting ebikes of all kinds.
If you want to have a thorough study on “Electric Bike Laws US” then this updated article will help you in every possible aspect. Let’s dive in!
Electric Bike Laws US
In modern times, technology has paved its way into almost every aspect of human life. From faster and effective communication services, online traveling solutions, bite-sized massive storage devices, electric cars to electric bicycles (more commonly known as E-bikes), technology has managed to become an upgraded arm of consumerism.
E-bikes, as the name suggests are electronically driven bicycles that put into use a motor to enhance their movement but are also manually operatable like a conventional bicycle. E-bike is the only mode of transportation that has managed to capture a significant portion of the bicycle market in the last two decades. The first electric bicycles appeared in the late nineteenth century. Between 1895 and 1899, the US Patent Office registered several patents for electric bicycles (Ogden Bolton patented battery-powered bicycle in 1895, Hosea W. Libbey patented bicycle with double electric motor in 1897 and John Schnepf patented electric motor with roller wheel). Late in the 1990s, models equipped with torque sensors and power controls became available.
In 1997, the name “Select” was given to one of the first commercially successful e-bike models. The following year, there were over 49 different e-bike models on the market. Yamaha and Panasonic, two large Japanese companies, became their global mass production in the early 2000s. With a simple design that closely resembles a traditional bicycle, a small and efficient electric motor, and simple control methods, it has grown rapidly in popularity since 1998. Today, China alone is estimated to have more than 120 million electric bicycles in use. In Europe and North America, the use of Electric bicycle use is also increasing rapidly, with annual sales of 1.5 million units reported.
Out of many appealing features of an E-bike, the two foremost advantages that it offers, remain its sustainability towards the environment and the health benefits it offers the operator. E-bikes are recorded to have no chances of Earth pollution as no harmful emissions are released from its combustible engine. Even if the cost of frequent battery changes (3 to 5 years) is taken into consideration, the E-bike is many times more environmentally friendly than any other form of road transport. E-bikes are recorded to be at least 13 times more environment friendly than regular automobiles, 6 times more environment friendly than rail transit, and exactly the same as a regular bicycle (which is the most environment-friendly means of transportation).
Moving forward from the health of our planet, E-bikes also offer significant health advantages to its user. Patients with cardiac problems, for example, can significantly improve their mobility by riding an E-bike that reduces muscle strain and cardiac exertion.
All in all, E-bike is a great product, serving various significant and life-changing advantages but being a relatively newer technology it struggles to find its place between a traditional bicycle and a motor vehicle and therefore subjected to legislative scrutiny. Today, the global production of electric bicycles is steadily increasing and each country has its own set of rules governing their use on public roads. For the purposes of our discussion here, we will focus on the governing Electric Bike Laws (US).
THE QUESTION OF LEGALITY OF THE E-BIKES
With the growing scalability of technology and increasing consumerism, the role of legal authorities and regulators takes a forefront to ensure that all products pass the test of legality and remain fit for the end consumer’s usage. The underlying issue between the technology oriented innovations and governing legislations primarily is the contrasting difference between the pace of both disciplines.
While the technology is evolving faster than ever, the legal frameworks are having a hard time matching up. This should not be construed in a way that the authorities and administration are lagging behind or slow with their approach, but it is the fact that the laws in general conduct a very inherent analysis of the subject territory before being deemed good to be administered and enacted. It is also the unique specification of an E-bike that gives the legislators a hard time framing laws around it.
The combination of a bicycle built and the ability to ride with pedals along with a motor that assists the rider while riding, creates a constant conundrum placing E-bikes somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. While the traditional bicycles are governed on minimal safety guidelines and laws, motor vehicles are to be registered, insured, and licensed before they hit the road, and being in the middle of the spectrum, the E-bikes are governed differently in different states based on how they are identified.
Additionally, when faced with an E-bike bill, the legislators and other stakeholders in the US, by and large primarily question the safety, speed, and allowed areas for an E-bike. According to a survey conducted in the year 2015, amongst Americans regarding their opinion about the E-bikes, 72 percent of the subjects stated their top concern to be safety, thereby casting upon an inherent responsibility on the legislators to ensure that the right kind of compliance is made applicable on E-bikes. Although low-speed e-bikes are about as safe and fast as traditional bicycles, their legal status is different. Indeed, electric bicycle laws vary by state.
At the level of Federal Government, a law was enacted by the Congress in the year 2002. The law, also known as HR 727, amended the Consumer Product Safety Commission definition of E-bikes. The law defined a low-speed electric bicycle as;
“A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 HP), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”
The Federal law permits either a “throttle assist” E-bike or a “pedal-assist” E-bike. For the understanding, a throttle-assist E-bikes are powered by a motor alone and a pedal-assist E-bike involves a combination of motor and human power. Notably, Federal law only specifies the top speed at which an E-bike can travel solely on motor power. It does not specify a top speed when the bicycle is propelled by a combination of human and motor power, which is the primary mode of operation for E-bikes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission clarified that Federal law permits E-bikes to travel faster than 20 miles per hour when powered by a combination of human and motor power.
STATE REGULATIONS AND ELECTRIC BIKE LAWS (US)
The existence of Federal laws does not pre-empt the ability of states to make laws. State traffic laws and vehicle codes continue to be the exclusive purview of states and their legislatures. In other words, the Federal government regulates the manufacturing and initial sale of an E-bike, but the states regulate its operation on streets and bikeways. Thus, many states continue to have their own laws classifying E-bikes alongside mopeds and other motorized vehicles, requiring licensing and registration, or prohibiting them from being used on designated bike lanes or multi-purpose trails.
Since the year 2015, there has been a constant focus of the state legislatures on drafting Electric Bike Laws (US) that could govern the operational aspect of E-bikes in their territories. States have showcased a constant focus on revising the older laws that classify the E-bikes as motor vehicles (mopeds and scooters) and include hefty license, registration and equipment requirements. The states have also made a conscious effort to create a three-tier classification system for E-bikes depending upon their speed capabilities and ensure that the recent E-bike laws can be clarified by providing further clarification and detail.
E-bikes have been defined by the District of Columbia (D.C.) and 44 other states in the territory of the US. Out of the total 44 states that defined E-bikes, 26 have adapted a three-tier classification. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, New York among others. All these states have an identical defining language for E-bikes, safety and operation requirements. The three-tier classification system classified E-bikes as Class 1 Electric Bicycle, Class 2 Electric Bicycle, and Class 3 Electric Bicycle (described in Figure 1 below),
Any device ultra-vires the scope of these definitions is not considered a low-speed electric bicycle that would be regulated as a bicycle.
19 states don’t have a three-tier classification system while 11 states don’t define E-bikes at all. These 11 states include Alaska, Missouri, New Mexico, US Virgin Islands, North Mariana Islands, etc. lack a specific definition for E-bikes and may be included within another class of vehicle such as “moped” or “motorized bicycle”. Although there is no specific designation for an electric bicycle in Mississippi, an attorney’s general opinion indicates that it would be considered a bicycle. While Kentucky does not have a definition for E-bikes, the state’s Department of Transportation adopted an administrative regulation in 2015 that included e-bikes in the state’s bicycle regulations. The Pi-chart below signifies a percentage-wise distribution of how the states (44) define E-bikes.
HELMET REQUIREMENTS FOR E-BIKES
A total of 25 states and D.C. have some sort of requirement endowed upon the E-bike operators and passengers to wear helmets. These requirements apply to operators under a certain age. PeopleForBikes and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association are promoting model E-bike legislation to states that includes a requirement for all riders of Class 3 E-bikes, which are pedal assist bikes capable of speeds up to 28 miles per hour.
Out of all states, Connecticut has the most stringent requirement, which requires all E-bike riders and passengers for all classes of E-bikes to use protective headgear. Helmets are required in Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah for anyone under the age of 18 who operates or rides a Class 3 E-bike. Additionally, any passenger riding a Class 3 E-bike in South Dakota, regardless of age, must wear a helmet.
Arkansas requires operators and passengers of a Class 3 E-bike under the age of 21 years to wear protective headgear. California, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia all require the operator and all passengers on class three electric bicycles to wear protective headgear, regardless of their age. Florida, Maine, and Maryland require any E-bike operator or passenger under the age of 16 to wear a helmet, while New Jersey and New York require any E-bike operator or passenger under the age of 17 to wear a helmet. Additionally, Delaware requires all E-bike operators and passengers under the age of 18 to wear helmets.
Overall, there are 22 states which require all bicyclists, including the operators of E-bike to wear protective headgear under a certain age, ranging from 12-18 years of age. It is also a noticeable trend that most state legislatures require the operators of Class 3 E-bikes to wear helmets and protective headgear while operating E-bikes, considering the Class 3 E-bikes reach the top most amount of speed at 28 MPH.
REGISTRATION, LICENSURE and INSURANCE
It can be commonly noted that the states with a three tier classification system applicable on the E-bikes typically exempt an E-bike from the requirements of registration, licensure and insurance. The underlying reason to back this practice remains the fact that once these requirements are waived, it becomes easy to differentiate and distinguish between E-bikes and other vehicles which may be classified as “motor vehicles” under their respective laws, such as mopeds and scooters.
A lot of states fail to take into consideration such minute requirements and their legislatures are still juggling between the opposite ends i.e. motor vehicles and bicycles when it comes to providing status to E-bikes. Some states such as Hawaii require the E-bikes to be registered and the operators are required to pay a one-time registration fee of USD 30. Surprisingly, the owners of non-electric bicycles in Hawaii also need to pay a one-time registration fee, which is exactly half i.e. USD 15, of the registration fee payable on E-bikes.
It shall not be construed that all 26 states with a three tier classification system have absolutely zero requirements for E-bikes. It must be noted that all states with a three tier classification system make it a mandate for the operators to affix their E-bikes with a label that states the classification number, top-assisted speed and motor wattage.
Some states where E-bikes are vested with the status of motor vehicles require a license to operate E-bikes. At least six states—Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, and North Dakota—require a license to operate an E-bike, typically because they are still classified as a motorized vehicle subject to licensing and registration requirements and consequently the states have not enacted a separate E-bike law. Utah and Vermont are two states that have recently eliminated requirements for E-bike licensing and registration. While some states, including Alabama and Alaska, define E-bikes in some way, riding an E-bike still requires an operator’s license.
The applicable Electric Bike Laws (US) in different states in the US are strikingly different in each state. Factors such as demographics, legislative intent, number of users, and other practical statistics are taken into consideration by the Legislators while framing laws, so that could they can justify the laws and ensure maximum regulation with a minimal amount of inconvenience caused to the public.
CONCLUSION (Electric Bike Laws (US))
E-bikes are here for the long run. With the general public becoming more environmentally conscious and people making healthier life choices, E-bikes will become a popular choice of commute. The impact E-bikes are going to have (or even still have) on the environment is incredible. The emissions generated by the E-bikes are as much as the conventional bicycles which practically have ZERO emissions. The law applicable in various states relating to E-bikes is non-uniform and requires a sense of singularity to be introduced in it. The Federal Government contributed to the definition of the low-powered electric bicycle by providing a framework.
However, the wide variety of statutes and codes, some of which “Electric Bike Laws (US)” was discussed in this article, leave the users in a state of complete confusion regarding their legal rights and obligations when riding an electric bicycle. While some states, such as Oregon, are quick to embrace emerging technology, others, such as Michigan, are lagging behind in developing regulations. If America has to meet its 2030 emissions and carbon footprint goals, the policymakers must incorporate E-bikes into codified law with immediate effect. The understanding of the term E-bike and its functionality is the core issue that the legislators and Governments are facing.
As long as the typical beliefs associated with motor vehicles and non-motor vehicles continue to exist, E-bikes will have a difficult time finding their place in the legal thresholds. Until and unless a common understanding of the term “E-bike” is achieved, this will be the lesser road traveled. As of today, witnessing the continued robust growth of the E-bike industry, one can only assume that the states will continue to upgrade the laws defining E-bikes, achieve uniformity, and everything else in between.
R E F E R E N C E S
- State Electric Bicycle Laws | A Legislative Primer, dated 24th February 2021, Accessible At: https://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/state-electric-bicycle-laws-a-legislative-primer.aspx
- H.R. 727, Amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act, Accessible At: https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-bill/727/text
- The Legality of E-bikes in United States, Accessible At: https://ebikesofholmescounty.com/legality-e-bikes-united-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=legality-e-bikes-united-states
- General Provisions; Electric Bicycles, Final Rule, National Park Service, Interior dated 11th February 2020, accessible at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/11/02/2020-22129/general-provisions-electric-bicycles
- Helmet Laws for electric bikes, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, Accessible At: https://helmets.org/ebikelaws.htm
- People for Bikes, Policies and Law, Accessible At: https://www.peopleforbikes.org/electric-bikes/policies-and-laws
- Facts and History of Electric Bicycles, Accessible At: http://www.bicyclehistory.net/motorcycle-history/electric-bicycle/