Federal Law Pertaining to Electric Bicycles

In the United States of America, Congress has defined a low-speed electric bicycle as any bicycle or tricycle with fully operable pedals, an electric motor not exceeding 750 W of power and a top motor-powered speed not in excess of 20 miles per hour (equivalent to the Canadian 32 km/h). An electric bike or trike that meets these limitations is regarded as a bicycle [8] by Public Law 107-319.[9] This Law defines electric bicycles only for the purpose of Consumer Product Safety and does not allow for their use on roads. It is a safety criteria that manufacturers should use in building electric bicycles, which helps protect manufacturers from the threat of lawsuits from within states that attempt to legislate more stringent safety requirements.


These are Federal regulations that put control of monitoring the safety of electric bicycles into the hands of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), which supersede any state law that is more stringent, but only regarding safety equipment required on electric bicycles and not regarding whether electric bicycles are street legal. The states still decide what vehicles are allowed to use the roads in their state.


The U.S. Department of Energy reports that “Since [1998, when federal rules regulating equipment on these vehicles became effective], 37 states have passed legislation allowing these vehicles to be driven on roads with posted speed limits of 35 miles per hour or lower.” [10]

 

TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU Specify that legal Ebikes, as defined above, are legal on urban bicycle trail systems getting any federal funding unless states or local entities have passed laws specifically dis-allowing electric assist bicycles. Under Federal Law, Ebikes are NOT considered motor vehicles unless the state or local entity has passed a law otherwise.


There is a MISCONCEPTION that when "motor vehicles" or "motorized vehicles" are disallowed by law or by signage, that this always means ebikes are illegal on trails. This is UNTRUE in many states; these terms do not include "legal low power electric assist bicycles", and can only be banned by passing a specific state or local law. (See TEA-21 Federal DOT Law)

SAFETEA-LU is a 2005 Federal Re-authorization of the 1990s TEA-21, and renews the exclusion of legal ebikes from the classification of 'motor vehicles' from urban trail use unless a specific local ebike statute is passed.


http://www.house.gov/transportation_democrats/Bike%20Book%2006.pdf


"Motorized vehicles are not permitted on trails and pedestrian walkways EXCEPT FOR: maintenance purposes, motorized wheelchairs, and—when State or local regulations permit—snowmobiles and electric bicycles. Electric bicycles are defined for the purposes of this Act as a bicycle or tricycle with a low-powered electric motor weighing less than 100 pounds with a top motor-powered speed not in excess of 20 miles per hour."

(The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, P.L.109-59 Available from the Government Printing Office or online at www.dot.gov. Title 23, United States Code. Available from the Government Printing Office or your local library system.)


There is some debate as to if and where the 100 lb rule applies. On the surface it appears to be valid on trails. Check your state and local laws for any recent changes.

As always, unsafe operation may be a specific illegal or civil matter to be handled by local courts.


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