Do You Need a License to Drive an Electric Bike?
October 15, 2021
Ebikes have rapidly grown in popularity over the past few years and this has led to more and more people discovering that they’re not just toys (although they are great fun!) but also practical tools that can assist and expand the world of pretty much every member of society. Some people are still learning what ebikes can offer and this requires asking some seemingly simple, yet legitimate, questions like: “do you need a license for an electric bike?” or “do you need a license to drive an electric bike in California?”
These licensing questions are legitimate and are often posed alongside others regarding ebike range and ebike speed. These are questions that everyone has when they first come across ebikes and these questions need answers before those new to the ebiking world can feel comfortable purchasing and using an electric bicycle. This is why we’ve put together this and other informative blog posts but, before we begin, licensing requires a little foreword.
Before we get down to answer: what kind of license do I need to drive an electric bike? and other related questions it is important to say that, with ebikes being so up-and-coming in the world, regulations are changing quickly, and you should always check the current laws in your state. Individual municipalities can also enact their own laws regarding ebikes so it’s worth looking up what restrictions and licensing requirements might be specific to your municipality before hitting the streets or the trails.
Do You Need a License to Ride an Electric Bike?
Not in all states. Click on your state to learn more information on ebike law requirements.
This information is readily available through peopleforbikes.org.
Nationwide, electric bike owners do not need to register their ebike -only in Hawaii for $30- and they’re also not required to have insurance for their ebike -unless they’re in Idaho- nor are they required to have inspections completed regularly like motor vehicles might. So why require a license if you don’t need to register an ebike or have insurance? Each state will have its own reasoning but we expect that many of the above states probably want to ensure that those operating ebikes on their roads are in full understanding of the laws governing those roads.
What Defines an Electric Bicycle in the USA?
In a world where all forms of personal transport are being electrified i.e. electric cars and electric motorbikes; how do we separate an electric bicycle from, say, an electrified moped or an e-superbike? You might have noticed that we snuck the term ‘low-speed electric bicycle’ into the beginning of the last section. This is because this is the official title Congress has placed on what we all call ebikes. The law goes as so:
a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.
This definition comes from a law passed in December 2002. Importantly, the last line of this legislation states that a “low-speed electric bicycle… shall not be considered a motor vehicle”. These low-speed electric bikes are put under the charge of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; which deals with everything from toys, to lighters, to ebikes; not the department of motor vehicles, and are therefore held to the same requirements as regular bikes, plus some, and not motor vehicles.
This low-speed electric bike, when powered by a combination of human and motor power i.e. pedal assist, is also legally allowed to attain speeds up to 28mph; what we more commonly know as a class 3 ebike. If it exceeds that limitation then it is considered a motor vehicle. It is important to note that this speed limit is based on motor assist i.e. the motor must cut out once 28mph is reached. You can use your own power and the assistance of gravity to go as fast as you like, within the speed limit of the road you’re riding on of course, and you still won’t be operating a motor vehicle. If the motor is still on and propelling you once you pass 28mph then your electric bike becomes a motor vehicle.
These low-speed electric bicycles are the ones we’re talking about in this article and all of our other ones. Anything that goes faster than 20mph using only a throttle or 28mph using pedal assistance is considered a motorized vehicle and not an electric bicycle.
Different States Different Laws
At the time of writing 44 US states have defined ebikes by law in some manner. Twenty-six of these states have chosen to use the three-tier classification system for classifying ebikes, with little to no variation in the wording of the definitions they use. The other 19 states have enacted their own laws, some based on the three-tier system and others incorporating them into current legislation under mopeds or bicycles. Ebike bills that have passed or been proposed in the House and Senate of each state can be found in this ebike bills tracker made by People for Bikes.
There are various intricacies which the lawmakers in multiple states deem to be of importance to them and their particular way of classifying ebikes so it’s always good to delve into the details of the bill to be sure of what you can and can’t do in a specific state.
Is There an Age Limit for Riding an Electric Bicycle?
Many states do have a minimum age restriction on an ebiker’s age and it is usually 14 or 16 years old. For the ones listed above as requiring some form of license, ebike riders need to be of licensing age to obtain a license to operate an ebike. For other non-license requiring states, it is always good to check local regulations because requirements can also change by municipality; especially in large urban areas.
Helmet requirements differ by state and municipality and, therefore, it would be futile to list requirements here when they may differ because of laws put forth by a local government. Many states that do have helmet requirements have them for persons under a certain age, usually 18, some have them for all persons riding ebike, and some even require motorcycle helmets.
At Aventon we would tell you to always ride with a helmet. Riding with a helmet is now the cool thing to do and the benefits of helmets are huge! Especially when compared to the not-so-great outcomes if you don’t wear one. Riding an ebike at up to 28mph has its inherent risks, much like riding any other mode of transport does, and we should all take the appropriate precautions when doing so.
A Final Word
Laws and licensing requirements for ebikes are currently in a state of flux around the nation as different lawmakers are coming to terms with what ebikes are, and grappling with how best to legislate their use in their legislative district. If you have a driver’s license, are over the age of 18, and are wearing a helmet there’s a pretty good bet that you are good to go with your ebike! But that isn’t gospel and local laws should always be check before taking your ebike out on the road or the trail.