Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has told The Times that the "Vnuk ruling" – which could increase motor insurance premiums, and may also force owners of electric bikes to buy third-party insurance – was a “perfect example” of “over-regulation” and that such rulings made him glad that Brexit is now in motion. In fact, far from being a regulation imposed on the UK against its will, the UK voted for the motoring directive.
The Vnuk ruling states that off-road vehicles, such as tractors and racing cars, have to be insured even if they never drive on a public highway. Electric bikes could be included within the scope of the ruling, an outcome that the Bicycle Association of Great Britain is seeking to prevent.
A source at the Department for Transport has told The Times that the UK government is likely to adopt the ruling, although it's expected there will be no announcement on this for some months.
A DfT consultation on how to implement the Vnuk judgment closes on 13th April, an extension to the original deadline of March 31st.
The Bicycle Association is currently finalising its submission to the consultation. The BA will state that e-bikes should be exempt from the Vnuk ruling. As well as having to pay for compulsory third-party insurance e-bike owners could also be made to fit number plates and possibly wear helmets, and other measures which the BA fears would impact on the marketability of e-bikes. Other trade bodies in Europe are also pressing for e-bikes to be made exempt.
Barrister Jo Maugham QC said: “Boris Johnson says the [Vnuk] episode makes him glad Britain had voted for Brexit. He's suggesting outside the EU such things won't happen.” But Maugham points out that every EU member voted for the motoring directive in 2009, including the United Kingdom.
Vnuk is not a bendy-banana–style EU acronym, it is the second-name of an unfortunate Slovenian farm worker who was knocked from a ladder by a reversing tractor. Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav (c-162/13) was originally heard in Slovenia, but then extended to the rest of the EU after it was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The European court decided that the regulation “applies to the use of vehicles, whether as a means of transport or as machines, in any area, both public and private, in which risks inherent in the use of vehicles may arise, whether those vehicles are moving or not.”
Further, the ECJ stated that: “Insurance obligation in respect of motor vehicles set out in the EU Motor Insurance Directives is now to be interpreted as extending to ‘any use of a vehicle consistent with the normal function of that vehicle’.
The national governments of Europe have the power to exempt certain classes of vehicle, and the BAGB and other bodies are hoping e-bikes will be so exempted.