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Ebike Laws in the United States - Updated Guide for 2023
As more and more Americans embrace ebikes as a mode of transportation, it becomes essential to understand the legal landscape surrounding their use. Electric bike laws vary from state to state, creating a complex patchwork of regulations that can be confusing for riders. But not anymore!
In this blog, we will delve into the intricacies of ebike laws in the US, exploring the different classifications, power and speed limits, age restrictions, and other key regulations that govern these two-wheeled marvels on the nation's roads. Whether you're a seasoned enthusiast or considering hopping on the ebike trend, this guide will help you navigate the legal framework and ensure a safe and compliant riding experience. So, let's get started.
Under the US Consumer Product Safety Act, ebikes are defined as "low-speed electric bicycles" with fully operable pedals, a motor that produces less than 750W (1.01hp) of continuous/ nominal power, and a maximum top speed of 20mph (32km/h) when powered only by the electric motor.
Electric bikes in the United States vary state to state. On the federal level, ebikes are defined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as "low-speed electric bicycles" if they have:
Electric bikes that meet these criteria are considered to be bicycles under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and are therefore subject to the CPSC's safety standards for bicycles. These standards include requirements for the strength and durability of the frame, the brakes, the tires, and the electrical system.
Though the federal regulations cap ebikes power at 750 watts and their maximum speed at 20 mph, individual states have the authority to create and enforce their own regulations concerning ebikes. Currently, 44 states have established various definitions for ebikes. Among these, 37 states have adopted a 3-tiered classification system (as of now) to classify ebikes based on their speed and type of power delivery system.
As of July 2023, the following 38 states have adopted the 3-tiered classification system: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The classes are defined as follows:
Note: New York also follows the 3-tiered Class system, but it has a different speed limit for Class 3 ebikes in cities that have one million or more people residing in them.
Only Pedal Assist
Both Pedal Assist & Throttle
Only Pedal Assist
Electric bikes in these 38 states are regulated in a manner similar to traditional bicycles. This means that the same rules of the road that apply to human-powered bicycles also apply to electric bikes. They are also exempt from registration, licensing, and insurance requirements, unlike other motor vehicles.
As far as the usage is concerned, most states permit ebikes on the same paths designated for traditional bicycles. Local authorities, however, have the power to impose restrictions on electric bikes using bicycle paths. Therefore, it's essential to be aware of the regulations mandated by your city, county, or town.
Class 3 ebikes often come with additional requirements, such as mandatory helmet usage and a minimum rider age. They may also be restricted from low-speed areas, like multi-use lanes, for safety reasons. For a comprehensive and detailed overview of ebike laws in each state across the United States, please refer to this resource guide from the non-profit ebike support group PeopleForBikes.
Alaska defines electric bikes as "motor-driven cycles," setting them apart from traditional bicycles regarding road rules. Electric bike riders must carry an operator's license, but they are exempt from registration and insurance requirements. Interestingly, wearing helmets is not mandatory while riding electric bikes in Alaska. There is a minimum age requirement of 14 years for using electric bikes. Moreover, electric bikes are not permitted on sidewalks or bike paths.
In Hawaii, an electric bike is classified as a "low-speed electric bicycle" with a maximum assisted speed of less than 20 mph on a level surface when powered solely by its motor. To own an electric bike in Hawaii, owners must register it and pay a $30 fee at any city hall satellite location or the state business registration unit in Honolulu. However, registration is only open to individuals who are at least 18 years old.
Regarding the operation of electric bikes, individuals aged 15 and older are allowed to ride them as long as the electric bike is registered to a household member. However, riders under the age of 16 are required to wear helmets for safety. It's essential to follow these rules to ensure responsible and safe riding practices.
In Kentucky, an electric bike falls under the definition of a "bicycle" as long as it is equipped with operable pedals and can be operated using a combination of human and motor power. This classification means that both electric bikes and traditional human-powered bicycles are subject to the same rules of the road.
Riders of electric bikes are not required to wear helmets, and there is no minimum age restriction for using electric bikes. Electric bikes are permitted on sidewalks and bike paths, offering riders more flexibility in choosing their riding routes… and they are exempt from the registration, licensing, and insurance requirements.
In Massachusetts, an electric bike is categorized as a "motorized bicycle" as long as its maximum speed does not exceed 25 mph. As motorized bicycles, electric bikes are governed by different rules of the road compared to regular bicycles, affording them certain distinctions in terms of regulations.
Wearing helmets is mandatory and the minimum age to operate an electric bike is 16 years. However, it's important to note that electric bikes are not allowed on sidewalks or bike paths. Riders are required to possess an operator's license and ebikes are subject to registration requirements. However, they are exempt from insurance requirements, which distinguishes them from motor vehicles in that regard.
In Montana, an electric bike is referred to as an "electrically assisted bicycle" as long as it does not exceed a maximum speed of 20 mph. Wearing helmets is not mandatory for electric bike riders in Montana, and there is no minimum age requirement for using electric bikes. Electric bikes are permitted on sidewalks and bike paths, and are exempt from the registration, licensing, and insurance requirements.
New York also follows the 3-tiered Class system, but it has a maximum speed limit of 25 mph for Class 3 ebikes in cities that have one million or more people residing in them. It means the industry-standard Class 3 electric bikes (with a top speed of 28 mph) are not permitted to operate in New York City.
Class 1 and Class 2 electric bikes are regulated similarly to bicycles and are subject to the same rules of the road as human-powered bicycles. These electric bikes are permitted on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less, including bike lanes, and are also allowed to carry passengers.
Ebikes are not subject to registration, licensing, or insurance requirements, but it's important to note that cities and towns in New York have significant local authority. They can impose any additional regulations, such as helmet requirements, so you should always consult them for information purposes.
In North Carolina, electric bikes are referred to as "electric assisted bicycles," provided their motor does not exceed 750 watts, the maximum speed is 20 mph, and the bike has operable pedals. Both electric bikes and human-powered bicycles are subject to the same rules of the road, ensuring uniform regulations for all cyclists.
North Carolina does not require helmets for ebike riders, but there is a minimum age of 16 years. Regarding their usage, electric bikes are allowed on sidewalks if regular bicycles are permitted in those areas. Moreover, ebikes are exempt from registration, licensing, and insurance requirements. Notably, state law does not explicitly address whether electric bikes are permitted on bike paths, and you have to consult local authorities for that.
In Oregon, electric bikes fall under the classification of "electric assisted bicycles," and they are regulated similarly to regular bicycles. To be considered an electric assisted bicycle, the bicycle's motor must have a maximum power output of 1,000 watts, and the bike must have pedals that enable it to be propelled with human power. Additionally, the electric bike's speed should not exceed 20 mph.
Electric bikes are permitted on bike paths in Oregon, but they are not allowed on sidewalks. Moreover, ebikes are exempt from registration, licensing, and insurance requirements. The minimum age for riders is 16 and they are not required to wear helmets.
In Pennsylvania, electric bikes are officially known as "pedalcycles with electric assist" and are classified so if their motor power does not exceed 750 watts and their maximum speed when powered solely by the motor does not go beyond 20 mph on a level surface. Moreover, the bike's weight must not exceed 100 lbs and it must have operable pedals.
Unlike in some states, wearing helmets is not mandatory for electric bike riders in Pennsylvania, and individuals under the age of 16 are not allowed to operate them. Ebikes are generally permitted wherever regular bicycles are allowed, although some specific restrictions may apply. Moreover, ebikes are exempt from registration, licensing, and insurance requirements.
In Rhode Island, electric bikes are categorized as "electric motorized bicycles." To qualify as such, these bicycles must have a power output not exceeding 1,491 watts, a maximum speed of 25 mph, and fully operable pedals.
Rhode Island laws do not specifically address whether electric bikes are allowed on bike paths, and riders should consult their local authority. Furthermore, electric bikes are not required to be registered.
In South Carolina, current traffic laws do not provide a specific classification for electric bikes. However, electric bikes are considered "vehicles" under the law, which means they are subject to the requirements and regulations that apply to vehicles in general.
South Carolina laws exempt electric bikes equipped with motors that have a power output of less than 750 watts from the definition of "moped." As a result, these electric bikes are not subject to the requirements that apply to mopeds, such as licensing and registration. Due to lack of specific regulations, it's essential for riders in SC to consult their local authorities or relevant agencies for more information about ebikes in their jurisdiction.
In Washington DC, ebikes are classified as "motorized bicycles" as long as they have operable pedals, the ability to be operated using combined human and motor power, and a maximum speed of 20 mph. Electric bikes are exempt from registration, licensing, and insurance… and riders have the freedom to operate their bikes on any sidewalk, off-street path, or designated bicycle route throughout the District. Riders must, however, be at least 16 years old.
Yes, RAEV ebikes are legal in the United States. RAEV ebikes are designed with Class 2 & 3 compliance. Here's a brief overview of all three of our products.
As ebikes continue to gain traction as a sustainable and efficient mode of transportation, understanding the legal framework surrounding their use becomes paramount. And not just federal and state laws, you must also thoroughly research the local ebike regulations before making your purchase decision.
The states utilizing the three-tiered classification system usually do not impose registration, licensure, or insurance requirements on electric bikes. Conversely, in states where ebikes are classified as mopeds or motor vehicles, registration, licensure, and/or insurance may be necessary for their operation.
Helmet and safety gear laws for electric bikes are linked to particular age groups or the different ebike classes. In many states, helmet regulations typically apply to riders under the ages of 14 or 16.
In states that adopt the three-tiered classification system for ebikes, helmet usage is usually mandated only for Class 3 ebikes. However, five states, namely Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut, require helmets for all ebike classes and all age groups. On the other hand, some states do not have helmet requirements for any age or any class of ebike.
Several states have implemented age restrictions for riding ebikes, and the specific age minimums may differ based on the class of ebike. Here is a simple breakdown:
Under the three-tiered classification system adopted by many states, the maximum power output for ebikes is capped at 750W nominal (approximately 1.01 horsepower), aligning with the federal regulation. However, there can be variations in power limitations across different states, especially those that don't follow the 3-tiered Class system.
The states that follow the 3-tiered Class system limit top speed to 20 mph and 28 mph for Class 1/2 and 3 respectively. Other states have their own speed limits. New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, for instance, limit their top speed to 25 mph.