E-bikes That Resemble Motorcycles Now Require Insurance

Electric bikes that look and function more like mopeds or scooters now require a driver’s licence, registration and insurance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled.

The rules around e-bikes

E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are only pedal-assist, some feature a throttle, and some can even accommodate a passenger. This has raised considerable confusion as to what, exactly, falls under the definition of an electric bike.

This issue recently came to a head in a case brought before the courts by Ali Ghadban. In 2018, he was issued a ticket in Surrey, B.C., for riding an e-bike without a driver’s licence and insurance. He argued against the ticket, claiming he was operating a motor-assisted cycle – not a motorcycle.

Motor assist cycles vs motorcycles

Of central importance to the case was the type of e-bike Mr. Ghadban was riding. He was operating a Motorino XMr which, on the face of it, complies with the e-bike regulations in Canada. It was restricted to 32km per hour with 500 watts of power, had a braking distance of at least nine metres and weighed less than 120 kilograms.

However, in May 2020, the B.C. Supreme Court found that the Motorino XMr did not meet the provincial definition of a motor-assisted cycle. This is because it is not designed to be operated primarily by human-power. Although it is fitted with pedals, these are very small and would do little to propel the nearly 115-kilogram bike.

Mr. Ghadbran then took his case to the B.C. Court of Appeal. It upheld the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision, with Justice Harvey M. Groberman saying that the Motorino XMr is designed to operate as a low-powered electric motorcycle, rather than as an e-bike.

The law is a grey area

This case just goes to show how the law is open to interpretation. In his ruling. Justice Groberman admitted that the Motorino XMr meets the technical requirements of a motor-assisted cycle as defined in the legislation. And yet, he said, it doesn’t do so in practice.

Critics are calling upon the provincial government to amend B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act, which hasn’t been updated in 50 years. This means it doesn’t deal with new devices on the market, including electric bikes, scooters and skateboards.

For now, anyway, the recent ruling at the B.C. Court of Appeal confirms that you will need a driver’s licence, registration and insurance if you use an e-bike that functions like a scooter or moped. If you don’t, you could be issued a ticket and face criminal charges. If you cause a personal injury accident, you may also be liable to pay damages from your own pocket.

E-bikes accident claims

This ruling also has implications for those who are injured by a low-powered electric motorcycle. Claims against true e-bikes can only be brought against the responsible party’s home insurance policy – if such a policy even exists. But now the definition of a low-powered electric motorcycle has broadened, it creates further legal complexities over coverage and claim eligibility.

As personal injury lawyers, we know that accidents involving e-bikes and electric scooters can be very damaging. As Erin O’Mellin, executive director of cycling advocacy group HUB puts it, they “are much heavier and they move at a much faster speed, so the consequence of a collision…would be much more dramatic.”

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Have you been injured through no fault of your own? Contact our Vancouver personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.

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