Last updated on January 31st, 2018
With massive growth in the electric bike market in the last year or two, it seems clear that this transport method is something that we are going to be seeing a lot more of in the future.
Yet, the fact that these bikes are relatively new means that a lot of people aren’t completely clear on the laws of using them yet. The truth is that these laws vary widely from one state to another, as regulation of their use on public streets is covered by state vehicle codes.
If you want to stay safe and keep on the right side of the law then it is vital that you find out what type of bike you can use, whether you need to use a helmet and everything else that you need to take into account before getting started.
The Federal Electric Bike Laws
One of the issues that confuses a lot of people is the definition of a powered bike that is given in federal laws. Yet, this description is something that matters more to the retailer than to the buyer, as it defines that they can be treated as consumer products when being sold.
The truth is that you still need to understand your state’s law for these vehicles in order to know what kind of bike you can use.
The following are the basic details that you can quickly find online by doing a state by state research. However, it is highly recommended that you research your own state’s laws thoroughly and keep an eye out for updates or amendments to them.
Where Are They Legal and Illegal?
The only state in which these powered bikes are currently illegal is New York. Some states lack specific legislation for them at the time of writing, though.
For example, in New Mexico they class these powered vehicles as being the same as ordinary bikes, meaning that they are subject to the same laws that already exist.
Pretty much everywhere else in the US covers these vehicles specifically in their state vehicle codes.
Where Are They Classed as Bikes?
The following states are among those that class an electric bike as a bike; Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi. Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.
Where Are They Classed as Motorbikes?
The following states classify an electric bike as a motorcycle: Alabama and Alaska. They are classified as mopeds in Kentucky and Hawaii, as motorized bicycles with pedals in Nebraska, as motor-driven cycles in Vermont, and as electric-assisted bicycles in Washington.
The maximum speed that they can go at on motor power also varies widely across the country. Be sure to check out this area fully, as the individual states sometimes drop in details such as the maximum speed being applicable to flat roads or when pedal power is included.
- 20 mph is the limit in the likes of Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington. In Nevada, it is specified that this limit applies on flat stretches. Meanwhile, in Washington, it is stated that this limit is for combined motor and pedal power.
- A 25mph limit has been put in force in North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
- 28mph is the legal speed limit in California.
- A 30mph speed limit applies in the following states; Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Vermont. It is worth noting that in Vermont this limit applies on flat roads.
- No limit has been set in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, and Mississippi at the time of writing.
Maximum Engine Size Allowed
The biggest engine size that is allowed is also different when we look across the US. In fact, different measures are also sometimes used. A few states give the limit in CC, while others chose bhp, watts, or a combination of two of these measures.
- Just 48CC is allowed in Arizona.
- A number of states have set the power limit at 50CC. These are; Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, and Ohio. In addition, it is stated in the laws of Connecticut, Kentucky, Montana, and Nebraska that it is either 50CC or 2bhp. In Ohio, it is 50CC or 1bhp that is specified.
- 100CC is the limit in Michigan.
- A more powerful 150CC motor is allowed in Alabama.
- 500 watts is the legal limit in Maryland right now.
- The power limit is stated as 750W in California, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Utah.
- 1000 watts is currently allowed in Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington.
- 1.5bhp is the highest power amount allowed in Maine’s state laws.
- The upper limit is simply stated as 2bhp in Hawaii and Idaho.
- The following states appear to have no upper power limit in their laws at the time this research was carried out; Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, and Vermont.
Is a Helmet a Legal Requirement?
The ways that different parts of the country rate electric bikes in varying ways mean that the need to wear a helmet while riding isn’t a universal law either. Of course, anyone who wants to stay as safe as possible can still wear a helmet while riding anywhere in the country.
However, to make sure that you are riding within the law you should check out the laws for where you live, using this list as a starting point.
- States, where a helmet is compulsory, are Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Tennessee.
- Those parts of the US where it isn’t a legal requirement to wear a helmet on an electric bike are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Vermont. Be sure to double-check this is still the case, though.
- In a few states this requirement is purely for riders under the age of 16; Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
- In California, the need for a helmet is dependent upon the class of the vehicle that is being used.
- Meanwhile, in Washington there is no official state requirement, so riders must follow the existing local laws around wearing bicycle helmets.
Minimum Age of Rider
The subject of how old a person has to be to ride a powered bicycle has also been approached in different ways up and down the country.
- 14 in the minimum age for riders in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Utah. It is worth mentioning that the limit in Utah is lowered to 8 when accompanied by a parent or guardian. We would also mention the fact that Arkansas brought back different results when searched online, showing how important it is to carry out thorough local research.
- Connecticut, Hawaii, and Minnesota have all gone for a minimum age limit of 15 years old.
- 16 is the magic number for riders in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington.
- There is no stipulated minimum age limit in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, and Texas. A point to bear in mind here is that Nevada has reckless endangerment laws that need to be taken into account, though.
What Type of License Is Needed?
Will you need a license in order to ride one of these bikes in your own state? Again, the answer varies greatly depending on where you live.
- No license is required in these places; Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
- You need a license to ride in the following states, though; Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont. In addition, the laws for Alabama and Alaska state that it has to be an M class license. Idaho says class D plus liability insurance is needed. In the case of Vermont, a driver’s license is specified.
Of course, no matter where you live and what the laws there are like, the onus is on you to ride safely and responsibly at all times. These electric bikes are powerful enough for you to get involved in a potentially nasty accident if you aren’t careful.
It is a wise move to get used to your new bike in a quiet area that is free of traffic before you take it out onto a busy road for the first time.
This is a subject that we can expect to hear more about in the coming years, as state laws are perhaps altered to take into account changing technology on the latest models and accident statistics from around the world.
If you are planning to get out and enjoy the freedom of the road on a powered bicycle then our first step should be to carry out full research on the legal obligations that you have to comply with. This article should be a good starting point for you but don’t leave anything to chance when you get ready to try out this cool, modern way of getting around.