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‘E-bikes’ allowed under vehicle and traffic law

Bicycles with electric assist (“e-bikes”) are now allowed in New York under Vehicle and Traffic Law, effective April 3, 2020. A new VTL section 102-c has been added to define e-bikes as a bicycle which is no more than 36 inches wide and has an electric motor of less than 750 watts and is equipped with peddles and meets the equipment and manufacturing requirements for bicycles. E-bikes are also excluded from the definition of a motor vehicle.

VTL is also amended to add various provisions relating to the use and operation of e-bikes, and adds various e-bike operation violations, including prohibiting operation of an e-bike while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. E-bikes are also subject to all rules, regulations and provisions applicable to bicycles.

The new law classifies e-bikes into three classes. In a class 1 e-bike, the electric motor only provides assistance when the person riding is also peddling, and ceases to provide assistance when the speeds reach 20 mph. A class 2 e-bike has an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle up to speeds of 20 mph.

A class 3 e-bike may be used exclusively in a city with a population of a million or more (limited to use in New York City only), and can propel the bicycle without the rider peddling up to 25 mph, which is the legal speed limit in NYC. Riders of class 3 e-bikes MUST wear an approved bicycle helmet at all times no matter the rider’s age.

No person younger than 16 shall operate an e-bike. Also, e-bikes are not allowed on public lands or property, other than a highway, unless allowed by regulation or order.

No e-bikes shall be operated on a sidewalk unless allowed by local law or ordinance by the city, village or town having jurisdiction over such sidewalks. Also, it is illegal to park an e-bike in a manner that interferes with the free passage of pedestrians on a sidewalk, and all e-bike riders shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. Persons riding e-bikes shall ride single file and may only be operated on highways with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less.

Municipalities may regulate the time, place and manner of the operation of e-bikes in specified areas. They may also authorize and regulate a shared e-bike system.

The new law also covers electric scooters, which are defined as a device weighing less than 100 pounds that has handlebars, a floorboard or a seat that can be stood or sat upon by the operator, and an electric motor, and can be powered by the electric motor and/or human power. It also can have a maximum speed of no more than 20 mph on a paved level surface when powered solely by the electric motor.

The above covers the majority of new applicable laws for e-bikes and e-scooters. These devices are becoming popular, especially in larger cities, as a great means of transportation.

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