Electric BikesGuides

Are Electric Bikes Legal? Everything You Need to Know About Laws, Insurance, and More

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The legality of electric bikes is a common question because they’re vehicles that take a motor to run them.

What makes this topic confusing is that most vehicle laws require a license as a means to regulate them, but e-bikes don’t have a test or bar of entry.

So, are e-bikes legal?

If so, do you need something other than a license to use them?

Electric bikes are legal, but their legality varies depending on the state, Class, and speed of your mode of transportation. Electric bikes are typically allowed where bicycles are unless they exceed speeds of 21 mph (34 km/h).

If you’re looking to get an e-bike, it’s essential to know what laws and insurance apply to your specific e-bike. We’ll look at the laws in your state, what the Class system is, what coverage you’ll need, and how to legally ride wherever you roam.

History of E-Bike Laws

In the United States, electric bikes have had steady growth since the ’90s. In 2001 congress lobbied and passed the first and only bill that defines e-bikes in federal law. Law 107-319 exempts e-bikes with operating pedals and motors from restrictions like strict licensing permits associated with motorized vehicles.

However, there is a difference between federal and state law in how e-bikes are classified.

Federal vs. State

Federal

Federal law defines the limits of low-speed electric bikes and compares these e-bikes to bicycles. Manufacturers don’t have to meet federal equipment requirements based on the Consumer Product Safety Act. However, there is no mention of exemption from other states, federal, and local traffic laws, or exclusion from the definition of motor vehicles.

The law applies to the manufacturer’s product and sale and avoids motor vehicle safety precautions like turn signals, brake lights, and braking specifications. The law’s only goal was to give businesses a legal framework so they could sell motor vehicles without harsh restrictions.

The law also grants commission authority to add safety requirements if they so choose. Overall, the legislation on the federal level is out-of-date.

State

Most states still have confusing regulations and requirements. Either the bikes are classified as mopeds or other motor vehicles, or they have the equipment, registration, or licensing conditions that cause problems for the average rider. For a more in-depth look at how each state views laws and licensing, continue reading.

Do You Need A Special Licence?

There are no special licenses for e-bikes, but each state has different rules and regulations for which permits you may or may not need. Most states do not require a license at all, or the user may require an already issued license (A, B, C, or M.J.). For more information, keep reading to determine which states require licensing before driving off on your new e-bike.

Why Do Motorcycles and Mopeds Need A Licence?

Both a motorcycle and moped need to have licenses to operate them, which requires the driver to take a series of tests to prove they are capable of operating the vehicle. All states require a license plate for a motorcycle, while only some states suggest a plate for mopeds.

Class A, B, and C are associated with cars, busses, mopeds, or trucks, whereas D and E are for specialty vehicles and taxis. M.J. is a specialty license only for motorcycles. There is currently no specific license for e-bikes.

Although an e-bike license doesn’t exist, some states require you to have an exclusive license to operate them regardless of how fast your e-bike is. For example, in Alabama, e-bikes are treated as motorcycles and therefore require a class M.J. license to work them. Other states, like Idaho, require a class D (operator) and liability insurance before operating an e-bike.

Do You Need Insurance?

Insurance for e-bikes does exist, but it isn’t necessary to purchase in the United States except for Idaho to operate a Class 3 (III) e-bike. The policy cost depends on your coverage, but we recommend liability coverage to cover third party damages like property or medical expenses.

However, there are many things insurance won’t cover, like a stolen battery, manufacturer malfunctions, or theft of the entire bike.

Homeowners and renters insurance will not cover electric bicycles. Auto Insurance also won’t cover an e-bike (only other motorized vehicles like mopeds or motorcycles) because you don’t require a license to operate it. You will need to seek out third-party insurance coverage.

Liabilities Associated with E-Bikes

A car that’s at fault for an accident will likely have its insurance covering the cost of repair or medical expenses. Unless you have access to coverage in your state, you could be prosecuted under the law, be financially liable for neglect or reckless endangerment via a lawsuit. It’s in your best interest to purchase insurance or pay close attention to your state laws.

Get your bike registered, wear eye protection, and wear a helmet (even if you’re not supposed to in your state) to avoid any possible legal recourse. Keep in mind that your health insurance will usually cover medical bills, but the costs of an expensive e-bike may be lost.

The US Laws and the Lack of Regulation

At the federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates e-bikes for product safety for manufacturing at the first sale. Without clear guidelines, many states adopted outdated rules governing e-bikes that treat them as an extension to human-powered bikes or motorcycles.

Some have no regulation what-so-ever, so individual states tend to suggest a 20 mph (32 km/h) max speed. This loose approach has led to multiple injuries that were easily avoidable. From 2000 to 2017, 245 million injuries occurred from electric scooters or bicycles.

What States Are Electric Bikes Legal?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act has made low-speed electric bicycles legal in all states except for New York. Other states have specific rules for what constitutes as an e-bike, and what license is necessary for operation. The below table examines how each U.S. states views the electric bike, its max speed and power, where helmets are mandatory, and the minimum age.

State Identity Type M. Speed M. Power Helmet Min Age License
Alabama Motor-driven vehicle Motorcycle N/A 150 cc Yes 14 MJ
Alaska Motor-driven vehicle Motorcycle N/A 50 cc No 14 MJ
Arizona Electric Bike Bicycle 20 48 cc No No No
Arkansas Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W Yes 16 (Class 3 only) No
California Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W Yes 16 (Class 3 only) No
Colorado Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No No No
Connecticut Electric Bike Bicycle 30 2.0 bhp (1.5 kW) and <50 cc Yes 15 Moped
Delaware Bicycle Bicycle 20 750 W Yes No No
District of Columbia Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No 16 No
Flordia Electric Bike Bicycle 20 N/A No 16 No
Georgia Electric Bike Bicycle 20 1,000 W Yes No No
Hawaii Moped Moped 30 2 hp No 15 Moped
Idaho Electric Bike Bicycle 30 < 2 hp No 16 Class D + Liability Insurance
Illinois Low-Speed Bicycle Bicycle 20 N/A No 16 No
Indiana Electric Bike Bicycle 25 N/A Yes 15 ID Card
Iowa Electric Bike Bicycle 20 (Unless Pedaling) 750 W No No No
Kansas Electric W/ Pedal Bicycle 30 1000 W Yes No No
Kentucky Electric Bike Moped 30 2.0 brake hp or 50 cc Yes 16 Moped
Louisiana Electric Bike Bicycle 25 1.5 brake hp or 50 cc Yes 15 Moped
Maine Electric Bike Electric Bicycle 20 Class I & II, 28 Class III 750 W Yes 16 No
Maryland Electric Bike Bicycle 20 500 W Yes No No
Massachusetts Electric Bike Bicycle 25 50 cc, < 30 mph Yes 16 Yes
Michigan Electric Bike (not allowed on Mackinac Island) Bicycle 20 Class I & II, 28 Class III 750 W Yes 14 No
Minnesota Electric Bike Bicycle 20 1000 W No 15 No
Mississippi Electric Bike Bicycle No No No No No
Missouri Electric Bike Motor Vehicle 30 750 W or 50cc No No MJ
Montana Electric Bike Bicycle 30 2.0 bhp and 50cc or 500W Yes No No
Nebraska Moped Motor Vehicle 30 50cc or 2 bhp Yes No Moped
Nevada Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No 16 No
New Hampshire Low-Speed Bicycle Bicycle 20 750 W Yes 14 No
New Jersey Electric Bike Moped 25 50 cc 1.5 brake hp Yes 15 Moped
New Mexico Electric Bike Bicycle 20 No Yes No No
New York Illegal
North Carolina Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W Yes No No
North Dakota Electric Bike Motorcycle 30 2 brake hp Yes 14 M.J.
Ohio Electric Bike Bicycle 20 1 bhp (750 W) or 50cc No 18 No
Oklahoma Electric Bike Bicycle 30 1000 W Yes 16 Class A and D
Oregon Electric Bike Bicycle 20 1000 W Yes 16 No
Pennsylvania Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No 16 No
Rhode Island Electric Bike Bicycle 25 2 bhp No 16 No
South Carolina Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No No No
South Dakota Moped Moped No No Yes No Moped
Tennessee Electric Bike Bicycle 20 mph, 28 mph for Class III 750 W Yes 14 No
Texas Electric Bike Bicycle 20 No No No No
Utah Electric Bike Bicycle 20 750 W No 14 No
Vermont Electric Bike Electric Bike 20 1000W or 1.3 hp No 16 No
Virginia Electric Bike Bicycle 25 1000W Yes 14 No
Washington Electric Bike Electric Bike 28 750 W No 16 No
West Virginia Electric Bike Moped 30 50cc 2 hp Yes 16 Moped
Wisconsin Electric Bike Motorcycle 20 750 W No No Yes
Wyoming Electric Bike Moped 50cc 30 No No Moped

The Rapid Need for Legalization of the 3-Class System

Since 2014, the national bicycle advocacy group PeopleForBikes helped over 30 states pass standardized regulations for e-bikes with the use of the 3-Class System. This model legislation defines three common classes of e-bikes based on wattage, speed, and operation.

Class 1 and Class 2 are usually allowed where pedal bikes are allowed, but Class 3 bikes are typically reserved for road use only. In Europe, a cyclist must place a highly visible sticker on the frame to indicate an e-bike’s Class.

In 2015, California was the first state to adopt the 3-Class System, but since then, 26 states now define e-bikes in a Three Class structure. The graphic below outlines where states have proper legislations, which are acceptable, and which are problematic and need work.

Photo Courtesy: Kat Dent

Legislated states use the 3-Class System. Acceptable states have no age limit, no licensing registration, and e-bikes are treated as bicycles. Finally, problematic states treat e-bikes as motor vehicles and have confusing laws and practices that aren’t found in state law.

The 3-Class System

Here is a breakdown on which e-bikes classify for Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 under the legislation.

  • Class 1: Assists pedaling but not your throttle, these e-bikes are passive and are allowed to function on bike paths. Pedal-assist only (absolutely no throttle), and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph (32.19 km/h).
  • Class 2: Known as low-speed throttle-assisted e-bikes. These e-bikes have motors that proper the cyclist without pedaling. The rider cannot exceed more than 20 mph (32.19 km/h) like Class 1, accept Class 2 e-bikes must be throttle-assisted.
  • Class 3: Known as speed pedal-assisted electric bikes and assist the rider if they’re pedaling. Cannot have a throttle. Class 3 e-bikes can have a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph (45 km/h). However, the U.S. only allows bikes on the road that have a maximum of 20 mph (32.19 km/h).

All e-bikes, no matter the Class, limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).

Can I Legally Buy/Build and Ride an E-Bike Faster Than 20 MPH?

Once your e-bike exceeds speeds of 20 mph (32.19 km/h), it falls into a Class 3 speed pedal-assisted electric bike, which requires more restrictions in each state (licensing, helmets, and age requirements). The definition for electric bikes spans 20-30mph with a 1-2 horsepower range. Once it exceeds these specifications, the bike becomes a moped or motorcycle.

The following chart describes the ranges, max speeds, average cost, and charge time. In many states, anything above 750W and 28 mph (45 km/h) require a license to operate or is considered illegal or under a different specification.

Battery + Motor (Flat Terrain 165 lbs Male) Max Speed Average E-Bike Cost Average Charge Time
250w 20 mph (32.19 km/h) $500 – $1000 20 minutes
500w 25 mph (40.23 km/h) $750 – $1250 40 minutes
750w 28 mph (45 km/h) $750 – $1500 60 minutes
1000w 35 mph (56.32 km/h) $1000 – $1500 80 minutes
1500w 40 mph (64 km/h) $1500 – $2000+ 120 minutes

High Power/Speed Ebike Categories

For anyone who wants to exceed the legal limit, high-speed e-bikes fall into three categories:

  1. Off-Road: Sold as “off-road use only,” they are only permissible on private land or off-road trails. They are technically not legal to drive on the road or sidewalk.
  2. DIY Kits: Any e-bike built at home with a DIY kit that exceeds the 750W/20 mph definition can be bought, built and ridden. Some newer systems have PAS options, but they are mostly throttle activated. You must use the kit to stay within state law, or else it could fall under off-road e-bikes.
  3. Speed Pedelec: Pedal activated bikes can max out at 28 mph (45 km/h) but only when pedaling to exceed that amount. Otherwise, a Speed Pedelec can only reach 20 mph (32.19 km/h) with the motor alone. If the user stops pedaling, it won’t retain its speed and fall back into legal territory.

It’s possible to rig an e-bike to go faster than 28 mph (45 km/h) with DIY kits, but the rider risks a fine or confiscation of property. If you wish to go above 28 mph (45 km/h), invest in a motorcycle or a moped to avoid a legal dispute.

What is the Minimum Age for E-Bike Operation?

The vast majority of states don’t have a recommended age requirement to operate an e-bike because they are classified as bicycles instead of motorized vehicles. Due to how fast an e-bike starts and maintains high speeds, practice discretion when teaching your child to use an e-bike – especially on a busy road.

States like Tennessee, New Hampshire, and North Dakota have a minimum age requirement of 14, but often a child can ride an e-bike under adult supervision. Children can also ride an e-bike in all cases as long as the rider is operating the bike on private property.

Oklahoma, Nevada, and Oregan have a minimum age requirement of 16. Since 16-year-olds start to learn how to drive or have their license at this point, it’s assumed that a 16-year-old is responsible enough to operate an e-bike without adult supervision. Every child is different, so express discretion if you’re worried about them operating the vehicle illegally.

Ohio is the only state in the U.S. that requires a user to be 18 (a legal adult).

Almost all states do not make an exception for classes 1, 2, or 3, which all function differently and have different max speeds. Also, note that some states recommend anyone under the legal age of operation should wear a helmet. Others will make operation legal before the recommended age if the user wears protective headgear.

Due to the complicated state laws, it’s essential to know how your child should navigate their e-bike safely and lawfully.

Do the Laws Require a Helmet?

The 13 states with the 3-tiered classification system do have helmet requirements.

Connecticut has the strictest requirements out of all states and declares that operators and passengers of all classes must wear headgear at all times.

Tennessee, Ohio, and California require that all operators and passengers, no matter the age, must wear helmets at all times. California even suggested protective eye-gear.

Utah and Arkansas require passengers and operators of class 3 or under the age of 16 to wear helmets. Michigan and Colorado also require protective headgear on anyone over the age of 16, but some sections of each state require a license.

Finally, states like Wyoming, Illinois, Idaho, Washington, and Arizona don’t require helmets at all. However, it’s in your best interest to wear one anyway.

Similar to how wearing a helmet on a bicycle is considered a by-law instead of an actual law, helmets should be treated as a rule rather than an exception. Flying off a high powered vehicle at 20 mph (32.19 km/h) can and will cut skin and damage bones.

Where Can You Ride an E-Bike?

Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on sidewalks, similar to how traditional bikes are allowed to exist with pedestrians.

However, it’s recommended to travel on the road to avoid a potential collision with other people who may not have time to react to your motorized vehicle.

An example of this law is practiced by Tennessee and California, which only disallows class 3 electric bikes from operating on bicycle paths. Class 1 and 2 are only rideable on bike paths and may not travel on sidewalks, which makes e-bikes safer for pedestrians.

Of the 33 states, some states such as Washington, Minnesota, Utah, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Arizona allow e-bikes to travel on greenways and bicycle paths.

However, these states are quickly implementing laws and regulations around pedestrian facilities.

Georgia law states that electric-assisted bikes can operate on bicycle paths specifically. However, other states like Nebraska, Iowa, Florida, and Delaware make no distinction between human-powered bicycles and e-bikes.

They can operate wherever a traditional bike can (even if the motor exceeds 25 mph (40.23 km/h) – be careful!)

Are you an e-bike enthusiast?

Are you interested in legislating e-bikes to maintain proper speeds in all states? Visit PeopleForBikes for more information, and share our article to get the word out.

Before you go, leave a comment on what you think about the 3-Class System, or read one of our other articles about how to determine if an e-bike is waterproof.

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