The European Commission has today decided that e-bike riders without motor vehicles third-party liability insurance are riding illegally. The decision – yet to be placed into law – would affect those riding pedal-assist e-bikes, often known as pedelecs i.e. the standard e-bike sold in Europe. However, individual EU states can, if they so choose, exempt e-bikes from the decision.
The proposal is contained as an aside in a press release issued by the Commission regarding the Motor Vehicle Insurance Directive.
“If today’s proposal becomes a law, third party liability insurance will be required that would discourage millions of European citizens to use pedelecs, undermine the efforts and investments of several member states and the European Union to promote sustainable mobility,” said Adam Bodor advocacy director of the European Cyclists` Federation.
The Commission has decided that even low-powered e-bikes fall under the Motor Vehicle Insurance Directive.
In an explanatory introduction to the proposal, the European Commission claims that pedal-assisted cycles should already currently have full motor vehicle insurance (not transport, bicycle, personal or household insurance but full motor-vehicle insurance).
"With this text, the European Commission is trying to criminalize millions of current power-assisted bicycle users, almost all of whom have some kind of other insurance and has effectively banned pedelec use without insurance usually reserved for motor vehicles," said ECF’s Bodor.
A currently street-legal pedal-assist e-bike has a 250-watt battery powered assisted motor which cuts out at 25 km/h. It is only activated when the cyclist pedals and is viewed as a bicycle in other EU legislation (such as type approval – where they are excluded-, driving license Directive and in most Member States road rules).
The cycle industry and the ECF lobbied the Commission to make a clear line between a motor vehicle and a power-assisted e-bike. However, the Commission decided against this and has lumped in e-bikes with motorised vehicles.
A document linked from the Commission’s press release said that its "evaluation demonstrated that new types of motor vehicles, such as electric bikes (e-bikes), segways, electric scooters etc, already fall within the scope of the Directive as interpreted by the Court of Justice in its case-law."
It added: "The use of these new types of electric motor vehicles in traffic has the potential to cause accidents whose victims need to be protected and reimbursed swiftly."
However, there is an important provisio: "The current Directive already provides Member States with the power to exempt [ebikes] from motor third party liability insurance. If Member States were to exempt them in this way, the national guarantee funds would bear the costs of reimbursing victims of accidents caused by these new types of vehicles."
While in theory this exemption route is true it would require individual legislatures to enact the exemption, something that many may not consider to be a priority.
It’s important to stress that this is not yet a done deal – the Commission’s recommendation has to be voted through by the European Parliament, something which could take many months. MEPs will be lobbied hard not to include e-bikes in the way suggested.