Are E-bikes Legal? Understanding the Laws Related to Safety and Operat - E Smart Way

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Are E-bikes Legal? Understanding the Laws Related to Safety and Operation

Posted by Tom Lee on

If you’re considering your first e-bike purchase, you may be wondering if e-bikes are legal where you live.

Determining whether e-bikes are legal is not straightforward as some may think. The Federal government has the authority to regulate the safety of e-bikes. However, all other aspects of e-bike laws are decided at the state level. The question is not always if e-bikes are legal, but what e-bike specifications are legal.

So, how are E-bikes regulated at the Federal Level?

The federal government has mandated that e-bikes are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and fall under the same guidelines as human-powered bicycles. In other words, e-bikes must meet the same safety standards as traditional bicycles. 

The bottom line is the federal government classifies e-bikes as bicycles and not as a “motor vehicle”, despite the presence of a motor. 

Therefore, e-bikes are not required to adhere to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards for vehicles. Although e-bikes are exempt from NHTSA standards, they still have specific regulations. These include a maximum speed of 20 mph, pedal operation, and battery power operation at 750 watts or less.

Federal laws do not override state laws as it relates to the operation of e-bikes. Furthermore, states cannot overrule federal law by classifying e-bikes as motor vehicles if they fall within the stated guidelines. 

That’s great, but what aspects of E-bike Laws are regulated at the State Level?

Although the federal government regulates the manufacture and sale of e-bikes, the operation of them is governed by each individual state. In other words, classifications of e-bikes, licensing and registration, and the laws relating to the operation of them can vary state to state.

States give local governments the authority to restricts where e-bikes can travel. For example, in California and Tennessee, a particular class of e-bikes is prohibited from traveling on bike paths. However, local authorities are given the power to override this restriction.

Let’s dig a little more to understand the current State E-bike Laws in the United States:

State legislators are making strides to bring clarity to state e-bike laws by starting with a classification system. The BPSA (Bicycle Product Suppliers Association) initiated this effort which includes three classes defined as follows: 

Maximum Output Maximum Speed Activation of Motor
Class 1 750 Watt 20 mph Only with pedaling
Class 2 750 Watt 20 mph Ability to fully rely on
motor (w/o Pedaling)
Class 3 750 Watt 28 mph Only with pedaling

And here’s why this classification system is important: 

This system promotes consistency in the writing and enforcement of regulations. Consequently, the consistency will create a safe environment for both e-bike riders and others that share the bike lanes, trails, and pathways. 

It is helpful to understand the status of E-bike laws in your state.

People for Bikes, a foundation and advocacy group promoting the safety, accessibility, and general fun of bike riding, created a useful resource for e-bike riders. This visual summarizes the status of state e-bike laws across the country.

Most importantly, be sure to follow local laws and posted signage while riding e-bikes on pathways, trails, and bike lanes. 

If your state does not have clearly defined e-bike laws, looking to other states with established e-bike laws can give you a good idea of what to expect in the future.

California e-bike laws serve as an excellent reference for other states. Advocacy groups are continuing to encourage all states to adopt the classification system to allow local authorities to establish and enforce e-bike regulations more consistently. As a result, clarity at both the state and local levels will undoubtedly make it easier to determine if e-bikes are legal in a given geographic location. 

Here’s the thing, before you select an e-bike to purchase there are some things you should consider.

  • Will you be riding your e-bike for leisure, exercise,  commuting to work, or all of the above? 
  • What are the e-bike laws in your state? 
  • What are the local e-bike laws on the trails, paths, and roads you plan to travel on when riding?

It’s worthwhile to consider the answers to these questions before making your final e-bike purchase. 

For example, there are local laws that prohibit electric mountain bikes on trails made for traditional mountain bikes. 

Can you imagine purchasing an e-bike only to find out later that you can’t ride it on your favorite trails and paths?

In addition, remember there are also helmet and age restrictions that are specified in some state e-bike laws. For example, California e-bike laws require riders under the age of 16 to wear bike helmets. These e-bike laws also prohibit riders under the age of 16 to ride Class 3 e-bikes.

Here’s some valuable advice:

Do your research. People for Bikes provides a valuable resource for riders to learn about the current e-bike laws in their state, helping them determine if e-bikes are legal where they live.

Once you have considered all the factors and researched your state and local laws, our experts can help you select an affordable e-bike that will meet your needs. 



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