By Paul Winkeller
In 2002, federal law was amended to distinguish bicycles with low-power electric motors capable of reaching speeds of 20 mph or less, known as electric bicycles, from motorcycles, mopeds and motor vehicles.
The New York State Legislature never changed state law to conform to this federal standard.
Although it is completely legal to sell and purchase electric bicycles in New York, it is illegal to operate them on public roadways. This creates confusion for manufacturers and consumers in this fast-growing market. It is time for New York to clarify where and how electric bicycles can be used.
Electric bicycles operate nearly identically to a traditional human-powered bicycle, but are easier to pedal with assistance from an electric motor that is activated when pedaling. Electric bicycles do not compromise consumer safety.
While research shows that the average speed of electric bicycle users on roadways is slightly faster than that of regular bicycle users, there have not been any significant increases in bike collisions, trail user conflicts, safety complaints or litigation with the growth in popularity of electric bicycles
Electric bicycles benefit senior citizens, parents with children and people with disabilities by providing freedom of transportation and mobility. These bicycles also appeal to people who want to bike but do not because of physical limitations and other personal barriers. Encouraging bicycle ridership by any means benefits the environment and improves the state’s air quality, traffic congestion and quality of life.
Legalizing the use of electric bicycles will bring bicycle-based dollars to New York’s tourism destinations, and will bring increased business to New York’s local bicycle shops and bicycle and accessory manufacturers. Electric bicycles also benefit the environment and local economies by using green battery technology, and will add to New York’s growing energy-efficient transportation system.
In the United States, the bike industry estimates more than 200,000 e-bikes will be sold in 2015, and this number is set to increase by 10 percent annually. New York State could benefit from the sale of electric bicycles with their legalization, and it is estimated by industry sources that annual electric bicycle sales could exceed 10,000 units per year in the state.
Legalizing e-bike use in New York is a benefit to both riders and to the state. Many states already allow e-bikes to be used and California just expanded its e-bike authorization.
Encouraging bicycle use is a safe way to help the environment by limiting congestion, supporting healthy living, promoting New York’s robust and diverse tourism industry and helping local economies.
Paul Winkeller is executive director of the New York Bicycling Coalition.