Consumer Product Safety Commission 16 CRF Part 1512: Requirements for Low-Speed Bicycles
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Code of Motor Vehicle Safety states that electric bicycles and tricycles meeting the definition of low-speed electric bicycles will be considered consumer products to be regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the same manner as ordinary bicycles, and are not considered motor vehicles under U.S. DOT and NHTSA regulations.
In conformance with legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress defining this category of electric-power bicycle (15 U.S.C. 2085(b)), CPSC rules stipulate that low speed electric bicycles (to include two- and three-wheel vehicles) are exempt from classification as motor vehicles providing they have fully operable pedals, an electric motor of less than 750W (1 hp), and a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds. An electric bike remaining within these specifications will be regarded simply as a bicycle for purposes of federal law. Commercially manufactured e-bikes exceeding these power and speed limits are regulated by the federal DOT and NHTSA as motor vehicles, and must meet additional safety requirements. However, such requirements do not apply to e-bikes assembled from parts or kits by an individual. The use of home-built or kit-assembled e-bikes are instead governed by state and local laws, as federal law does not preempt state and local jurisdictions from enacting their own laws governing the operation of such vehicles on public streets and roadways. The legislation enacting this amendment to the CPSC is also known as HR 727.
If you live in California new legislation was put into law on January 1, 2016. It identifies three classes of bikes; Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. If your bike is a Type 1 then for all intents and purposes it is considered a "bicycle," and may travel on any road, trail or path that allows bicycles. Type 2 E-bikes may be pedal assisted, but they can also have a throttle, may travel unrestricted as does a bicycle. The Type 3 E-bike however, may not travel on bike paths because they are capable of much higher speeds, (28mph). See the graph below for more information on California's "NEW" electric bicycle laws.
Senate Bill SR 1156
In a word, this new law applies to production electric bicycles!
The US Senate passed SR 1156, and former President Bush signed into law a new US law, which regards electric bicycles with fully functional pedals, no more than 750 watts of motor output and a 20 mph top speed as a bicycle. The new law assigns the governance of electric bicycles to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and will define a bicycle that has pedals, (and is capable of being propelled by those pedals) an electric motor of no more than 750 watts, and a top speed (on motor only) of 20 mph as a "bicycle." As a bicycle, therefore, you do not need any license, registration, or insurance.
Now, it is still possible that a police officer may still try to write you a ticket if you have not obeyed the traffic laws. When riding a bike, it is always important to obey traffic laws. But, you do not have to show a driver’s license, registration, or any other verification.
The electric bike is one of the few unregulated vehicles of any type. So, it is truly a vehicle of FREEDOM: No license, no registration, no insurance, no GAS! Electric bicycles are just a ton of pure fun.
Other Legislation and Related Issues:
In 2001, the U. S. Congress passed Public Law 107-319 which exempts electric bicycles under 750 watts/20 mph from the definition of a motor vehicle only…."for purposes of motor vehicle safety standards.” This means that the manufacturers of these bicycles do not have to meet federal equipment requirements, and are instead governed by the manufacturing requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act.
Various states have passed their own laws. California law states that no driver's license, license plate, nor insurance is required. You must be 16 years or older and wear a standard bicycle helmet. Electric bikes are subject to all the rules of the road. However, state or local governments may extend additional laws governing the operation of electric bicycles. It is therefore legally a bicycle, so you can use it wherever and however you can use a bike. Washington law is similar.
Federal law overrides all States’ laws. That is also true with bicycle law. States cannot constitutionally pass legislation that reduce or eliminate Federal law -- they can only pass legislation that enacts additional (tighter) restrictions on its people. Therefore, no State can enact legislation that allows wattages or speeds greater than the Federal Government’s limit of 750 Watts and a top electric-powered speed of 20MPH. States can only legislate LOWER wattages and top-speeds (which, to our knowledge has not been done by any state). An e-bike can go over 20 MPH, but not by means of the motor.
As a practical matter, police don't notice bikes going too fast, nor have we ever heard of them writing speeding tickets for an electric bike. Gas bikes are another matter as they violate and pollution ordinances and likely do not comply with the law. Again as a practical matter, we have never heard of anyone getting ticketed for just riding an electric bike. If you ride according to traffic laws, you should be fine.
Are there special insurance requirements?
No insurance is required to ride an e-bike. However, if you want to insure it against theft, check your current homeowner's insurance policy. An electric bicycle may be covered. Check with your agent.
What are the laws regarding mopeds?
Most motor vehicles must be registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Motorized bicycles (mopeds) are exempt from registration (sec. 4020), but must display a special plate issued by the department (sec. 5030).
So an electric bike can give you back your mobility, your freedom, and your ability to make a living! Another tremendous use for the electric bike is for those with disabilities. I recently had a total hip replacement, and after two weeks I was able to power around on electric bike. Then I gradually started pedaling more and more, modulating the amount I was pedaling to match my increasing level of fitness. I grew a new and deeper appreciation for electric bikes, because it helped lift my spirits everyday, greatly assisting my rehabilitation, as it transported me to where I wanted to go.
Another wonderful thing about electric bikes is that they may be ridden practically anywhere; street, bike path, trail, even the sidewalk in some places (with discretion). You can ride to a crowded event and pull right up to your destination, lock up your bike and you are there!
And when you ride by the gas station and see that gas sign approaching $5 and you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.
Driver's licenses, registration, insurance and license plate requirements do not apply. An electric bicycle is not a motor vehicle. An electric bicycle may only be operated by a person 16 years of age or older. Drinking and driving laws apply. Motorized bicycles may not be operated on dedicated bicycle paths unless allowed by local government ordinance. Additional laws or ordinances may apply to the use of electric bicycles by each city or county.