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Do You Need a License to Drive an Electric Bike?

In the past few years, the electric bike industry has seen substantial growth. Electric bikes are economical and environmentally friendly. They are becoming a popular mode of commute among people.

However, there is confusion among the buyers whether their e-bike is a bicycle or a moped. Will they need a license to drive their e-bike?

There is no single answer to this question. In most places, electric-bikes are treated as bicycles and thus do not require a license. In some places, laws are different and would require a license. This article will try to answer the question: do you need a license to drive an electric bike in your state?

What is an Electric Bike?

The problem with electric bikes lies in their definition. The electric bikes come in several variants and styles. Each has different features and specifications, which makes it difficult to classify in a single category. Almost all countries have a different term and definition for electric bikes.

Sometimes even within one country, electric bike definition changes. Electric bikes are not a new concept. However, it wasn’t until recently that countries started legalizing the use of an electric bike.

In the US, electric bikes are defined differently at federal and state levels. The federal laws specify electric bikes as consumer products. The bikes need to be manufactured as per specific rules to provide safety for consumers. According to the federal regulations, electric bikes having these features are classified as low-speed electric bikes.

  • The bike should have 2 or 3 wheels and functioning pedals.
  • The electric motor should have a maximum power of 750watt.
  • The maximum speed of 20 mph when driven by the motor alone,

These electric bikes cannot be classified as motor vehicles.

Some states have defined the electric-bikes into several classes and made specific rules and regulations applicable to each electric bike class. The need for a license to drive an electric bike varies from state to state according to their regulations.

Do You Need A License To Drive An Electric Bike in California?

As per the California Vehicle Code, electric bikes are classified as conventional bicycles. Electric bike motor power must not exceed 750W, and the speed limit is 28 mph. Electric bike motors must use a switch or mechanism that will cause the motor function to cease. The motor must disengage when brakes are applied.

Electric bikes do not need a license or registration. Riders of age 16 and above can drive electric bikes.

The state of California defines three classes of electric bikes:

Class-1: An electric bike having motor assist while pedaling with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
Class-2: An electric bike that provides motor power whether the rider is pedaling or not. It must have a mechanism to stop the power assist when the speed reaches a maximum of 20 mph.
Class-3: An electric bike that continues providing electrical power while the rider is pedaling till the speed limit of 28 mph is reached.

Some rules apply to the riders of electric bikes:

  • Riders should be at least 16 years old to ride an e-bike if the maximum speed is 28 mph or more.
  • Electric bikes can only be operated by persons of age 16 years and older.
  • Riders under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet while driving an e-bike.
  • Electric bikes can not operate on dedicated bike paths. However, they are allowed on the path running adjacent to a roadway.
  • Class 3 electric bikes are not allowed on any bicycle path or trail unless adjacent to a roadway.

Do You Need A License To Drive An Electric Bike in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts e-bike law defines an electric-bike as a motorized bicycle with a speed limit of 25mph. It makes electric-bikes susceptible to different laws and regulations from regular bicycles.

Some of the rules applicable to electric bikes in the state of Massachusetts are:

  • Electric bike riders must carry a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit and are liable to registration requirements.
  • Any person riding an electric bike must wear a helmet.
  • Riders under 16 years of age cannot use an electric bike.
  • E-bikes may operate on bicycle lanes adjacent to the various ways but are prohibited from all bike paths and sidewalks.

Do You Need A License To Drive An Electric Bike in Michigan?

The Michigan electric bike laws define bicycles with saddle and seat, fully operable pedals, and an electric motor of less than 750w. You do not require a license or registration to drive an electric bike in Michigan.

Electric bikes are separated into three classes:

Class 1- An electric bike with a motor that assists while pedaling, which stops when the bike reaches 20 mph speed.
Class 2- An electric bike with a motor that propels the bike whether the rider is pedaling or not and stops when it reaches 20 mph speed.
Class 3- An electric bike with a motor that assists only when the rider is pedaling and when the bicycle reaches 28 mph speed.

Specific rules apply to electric bikes:

  • Any person riding an electric bike, having an age upto 18 years must wear a helmet.
  • Electric bikes can ride on any approved roads and paths that are available for bicycles.
  • Electric bikes may operate on roadways and paths approved for bicycles. Electric bikes are not allowed on state highways or interstates.
  • A permit is required before you use an electric bicycle within the Mackinac Island State Park.
  • Anyone under the age of 14 cannot ride a class 3 electric bike unless they are riding as a passenger. However, there is no age limit for class 1 and class 2 bikes.
  • You can operate a class-1 electric bike on a linear trail with asphalt, crushed limestone, a similar surface, or a rail trail. You cannot operate a class-2 or class-3 electric bike on a linear trail or a rail-trail unless permitted access by a local authority.

Do You Need A License To Drive An Electric Bike in Tennessee?

According to the Tennessee bicycle laws, an electric bicycle and the person operating it is not subjected to any laws applicable to motor vehicles. Riders do not require a license or registration.

However, riders of 14-16 years of age may apply for a restricted license to operate a motorized bicycle. The laws define electric bikes as having two or three wheels and an electric motor of fewer than 750 watts. Electric bikes are further classified as
Class 1 – An Electric Bike that assists up to 20mph only while pedaling.
Class 2 – An Electric Bike that assists up to 20mph, independent of pedaling.
Class 3 – An Electric Bike that assists up to 28mph while pedaling.

However, specific rules will apply according to situations:

  • All persons with age 16 years or less must wear a helmet when riding on any highway, street, or sidewalk.
  • Riders of Class 3 electric bike must wear properly fitted helmets, regardless of age.
  • Riders under 14 years of age are prohibited from operating Class 3 electric bikes.
  • Riding on sidewalks is banned unless local authorities having jurisdiction allows it and the motor is disabled.
  • While riding on the road, laws similar to standard bicycles apply to electricity.

Electric Bike Laws and License Requirements in the Other States

About half of the states have a helmet requirement for e-bike riders and passengers under a certain age. The other half does not have any helmet requirement for any class of electric-bike.

States with a three-tiered classification system do not require registration, license, and electric-bikes insurance to separate them from other motorized vehicles.

Some states do require a license to operate an electric bike. The bikes are classified under the category of another motorized vehicle with license and registration requirements.

Some state laws, like Arizona, Minnesota allows the electric bike to operate on bicycle paths. While in some states like Iowa, Delaware, electric bikes are defined within the definition of a bicycle.

Vermont’s state specifies that electric bikes are considered bicycles and have the same rules and regulations applicable to bicyclists. Hawaii does not have any restrictions on where e-bikes may operate.

Final Thoughts

If you ride an electric bike, you will always be on the safer side if you abide by your state’s respective laws. So, next time when you plan to ride an e-bike, don’t forget to check your state’s law regarding the license and other things.

Written by Lee Hill

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