It's important that those looking to use e-bikes are aware of the specific legislation around their use so they stay on the right side of the law

E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and they are sure to have featured on Christmas lists up and down the country. For some they provide an opportunity to enjoy cycling for longer and for others they offer a much welcome energy boost on their daily commute or on that tough climb.

But what is an E-bike? The dictionary definition is "...a bike that can be powered by electricity as well as propelled by pedals..."

The Government has a different definition for what it calls an "electrically assisted pedal cycle" ("EAPC"), which can be legally ridden if you are aged 14 or over. A licence will not be required to ride an EAPC nor will tax or insurance IF the following requirements are met:

  • it must have pedals that can be used to propel it;
  • it must show either the power output or the manufacturer of the motor;
  • it must show either the battery's voltage or the maximum speed of the bike; and
  • the electric motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts and should not be able to propel a bike when it's travelling more than 15.5mph.

This raises a couple of interesting questions:

  1. What are the consequences if a child aged 13 or under is stopped by the Police riding an EAPC?
  2. What if, as is increasingly common, the EAPC has been modified to increase the power or top speed to a figure above the Government guidelines and the rider is stopped by the Police?

In answer to the first question, Section 32 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 ("the Act") states that an EAPC "shall not be driven on the road by a person under the age of 14". The use on private land would therefore be permitted. Section 32(2) of the Act goes on to say that a person who drives an EAPC or, knowing them to be under the age of 14, causes or permits them to drive an EAPC, is guilty of an offence. Unwittingly therefore, both a child under the age of 14 and their parent could be charged with an offence under the Act if the child is caught using the EAPC on the road.

The second situation could have even more wide-ranging implications for the rider of a modified EAPC. If the modifications take it outside of the EAPC definition then the EAPC is classed as a motorcycle or moped and needs to be registered and taxed. The rider would also need a driving licence to ride one, as well as insurance and to wear a helmet. It may be that the rider would be unaware of the legal requirements and be unable to satisfy them, leaving them open to a fine and penalty points.

There have unfortunately been a number of fatalities involving EAPCs (including modified versions) and a study earlier this year identified that in Switzerland, hospitalisation and chest trauma rates were higher among EAPC riders when compared to conventional bicycles. This is likely to be the result of the higher speeds involved, particularly with derestricted EAPCs. The approach by Police forces to date seems to focus on confiscating EAPCs. However, legislation is already in place which gives the Police the power to take a much tougher stance and should the increasing use of EAPCs see a corresponding increase in offences then it seems likely that riders (and the parents of underage riders) could well be charged with road traffic offences.

As a society we are looking at ways to improve mobility in an environmentally sustainable way and EAPCs, along with e-scooters, are seen as part of the solution, particularly in urban areas. It is however important that those looking to buy or use an EAPC are aware of the specific legislation around their use to ensure that they stay on the right side of the law which was designed for their safety and the safety of others.

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