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Electric Bicycles, Rickshaws, Scooters & The Law

Electric Bike Road Traffic Offences & Section 185 Road traffic Act

Electric bikes are quickly becoming more popular and common place on UK roads.  If you have an electric bike, are a rider of electric bikes, or an owner / manager of an electric bike or rickshaw company, then this page is for you.

As more and more commuters / leisure cyclists invest in electrically assisted bikes, accusations of related motoring offences are anticipated to rise.

While most of these power assisted bicycles are rated within the exemption in terms of speed, weight & maximum power, some can be far more powerful and therefore fall outside of the exemptions.

We can see that lots of people will start to be charged with these offences as they are effectively motorbikes / mopeds rather than electronically assisted pedal cycles.

Electric Bike Law

Anything which can travel at more than 15 mph, exceeds 40 kg or has a power output of greater than 250W is no longer an electric bike but, under section 185 of the Road Traffic Act, suddenly becomes a “motor vehicle”.

Electric bikes – potential Road Traffic Act offences.

Did you know that you can be accused of road traffic offences, for example riding the bike without the motor insurance, without the correct licence even speeding offences if your electric bike does not fall within the statutory exemptions in terms of its maximum speed, weight and maximum rated wattage.

If your electric bike exceeds the maximum speed capability, maximum weight rules or the maximum rated power then it could be classed as a motor vehicle and needs to be fully road legal.

If you are stopped by the police and accused of a road traffic offence whilst riding an electric bike then please .  Otherwise you could be facing penalty points on your driving licence and in some circumstances even the risk of disqualification.

Police target rickshaw drivers on mass in Central London

On the 21st December 2019 the police put into action an operation to remove rickshaws from the streets of London. Officers have been stopping, seizing and in some cases destroying rickshaws to remove them from the streets permanently.

But the way they have been doing it is rather strange – they have been using a piece of legislation which gives them the power to remove uninsured motor vehicles from the road.

What is a “Motor Vehicle”?

Generally a rickshaw is not a motor vehicle. It is simply an electric bike and therefore doesn’t need insurance.

However anything which can travel at more than 15 mph, exceeds 40 kg or has a power output of greater than 250W is no longer an electric bike but, under section 185 of the Road Traffic Act, suddenly becomes a "motor vehicle", which is then governed by the Road traffic act and requires insurance and licence to drive it (as well as license plates, indicators and headlights).

So the police have been stopping rickshaws and testing their weight, speed and power output. If they exceed any of the regulations they are classed as motor vehicles and if the riders do not have a licence / insurance, then they are seized for having no insurance.

Legal Consequences

Firstly the rickshaw will be impounded. Generally in order to recover it the owner will need to turn up at the impound with proof of ownership, a licence and insurance, and pay the impound fee in order to get it released. The police usually give the owner 14 days before the bike is destroyed or sold.

Secondly, the rider may be prosecuted for driving without a licence and driving without insurance, putting them personally at risk of up to 8 penalty points or discretionary disqualification, as well as fines and costs.

What Can be Done to Defend Electric Bike Allegations?

Car pounds can be difficult to deal with and very particular with the paperwork they accept. It is advisable to get legal advice before recovering a bike.

You have to act quickly. Every day the bike is in the pound the fee for release increases. And if it is not recovered within 14 days, the police will keep possession of it. They will put it aside for sale / auction.

The best that can be done at this stage is to ask the police not to destroy it because as the rider, you have decided to take their case to court and challenge the allegations against you. (for example, if you successfully challenge in court that the power output was 250 W or less and therefore did not need insurance, you may be able to the claim the bike back at a later stage).

Separately there will be the police prosecution against the rider directly.

The rider may be given a fixed penalty offer, giving them the chance to accept 6 penalty points and a £200 fine for driving without insurance instead of taking the matter to court.

Whether to accept the fixed penalty offer has to be considered carefully. Once it is accepted there is no turning back. That cannot be undone at a later stage.

If the rider decides not to accept the fixed penalty the case will proceed to court. At this stage there are potentially a number of arguments available.

One would be to argue whether this would be classed as a "motor vehicle". An expert on power outages may be required to examine the motor and top speed of the device to see whether it even requires insurance.

Even if it is considered a motor vehicle and does need insurance, the rider still may be able to defend themselves. There is a very specific defence for people accused of driving without insurance if they can show:

  • that the vehicle did not belong to them and was not in his possession under a contract,
  • that they were using the vehicle in the course of employment; and
  • that they neither knew nor had reason to believe that there was no insurance needed.

But these are not straight forward legal cases. They are often complicated, technical and require a thorough examination by a specialist.

Powered Transporters / E Scooters

Whilst there are specific provisions allowing electric bicycles (subject to speed / maximum power) to be driven / ridden on UK roads, these exemptions not apply to other “Powered Transporters” and “E Scooters”.

These vehicles still come within the definition of a motor vehicle and therefore require insurance/licences etc to be road legal. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/powered-transporters/information-sheet-guidance-on-powered-transporters

There is currently an ongoing consultation with a view to legalising these methods of transportation, but at the moment they remain illegal. It is anticipated that there will be similar exemptions introduced as to those that exist for electric bicycles.

If you have a question or you have been accused of an offence relating to one of these types of vehicles them please get in touch and we will be happy to assist further.

If you had an honest and reasonable misapprehension that they were road legal and did not require a licence/insurance then we may be able to help you avoid the risk of penalty points. Always ask us before you accept a fixed penalty punishment from the police.

Crisis Facing London’s Streets

According to TFL on any given day before Covid19 2 million people per day would use London’s tubes and another 6 million use the bus service.

It doesn’t take an expert to realise that these public services are crowded and overused at the best of times.

So far, the government has suggested that the lockdown restrictions will be eased but has remained clear that social distancing will remain. Yet, they are silent as to how social distancing will work on public transport.

Keeping 2m away from another person will result in millions of people being unable to use buses and trains. So what is the answer?

Most people will instantly turn to their cars. No doubt this will cause chaos on the roads, traffic beyond recognition and gridlock everywhere you look.

So perhaps the answer lies with electric bikes.

Are Electric Bikes the answer?

All over Europe we have seen electric scooters pop-up. In cities such as Lisbon the shared scooter scheme has taken off like wildfire, with commuters using the scooters to get around quickly, easily and economically.

But in the UK we have been slow to the uptake, mainly because of the restrictions our laws put in place. (see above)

The law surrounding scooters is complicated, but generally anything above 250 W – which most electric scooters are – requires regulation. It means they are subject to the Road Traffic Acts and are then classed as motor vehicles, meaning they are required to adhere to all of the relevant safety standards, have features such as indicators and headlights, car insurance and MOTs. It puts off manufacturers are making them, and certainly puts of people from using them.

What can be done?

If the government is serious about lifting the restrictions yet allowing people to go to work without using public transport, then it may need to look at the restrictions urgently.

One way to immediately assist would be to raise the limit of an electric scooter that would be restricted under the Road Traffic Act. For example, if the restriction was lifted from 250W to 750W it would allow most electric scooters to operate freely without the need for measures such as MOTs and car insurance.

But this would cause problems. They are powerful devices and being unregulated would mean that they are not adhering to the safety standards of other vehicles, which in turn could have unknown consequences for the millions of people that are potentially going to use them. It also means they could operate without insurance, so if there are any accidents there is no obvious claim for injury / damage. It's unlikely the government would go down this route.

Another option would be to create a middle ground, where anything above 750W would be regulated by the Road Traffic Acts but anything from 250W to 750W would be exempt from most of the traffic laws such as licences, indicators and headlights, but would still be caught under other provisions such as the red light provisions, MOTs and the need for insurance.

A third option, which the government may well consider, is creating an entire separate set of laws and acts specifically for the provision of electric scooters. It would mean a whole new range of offences, and could see a brand-new area of rules and regulation.

So far, the government has been silent on the issue, but at Patterson Law we believe something must be done immediately.

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