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Maine’s New E-Bike Laws

Charging Now and Scheduled to Go Into Effect This Fall

This week, Governor Mills signed LD 1222, An Act Regarding Electric Bikes, into law.  The Act’s history, swift movement through the Legislature, and prompt approval by the Governor underscore that e-bikes have made their way to Maine, are here to stay, and require appropriate regulation.  Here’s what you need to know about the new Maine bike laws.

The E-Bike Movement in Maine

Over the last several years, Maine has seen a rise in the number of people using e-bikes for health, recreation, environmental sustainability, transportation and other reasons.  Many environmentalists, city planners, traffic engineers and other professionals see e-bikes as a viable means to reduce noise and air pollution and as part of the solution to some of our state’s traffic congestion and roadway erosion problems. Health professionals and sustainable transportation advocates are also applauding e-bikes for their ability to allow people to travel places by bicycle that may otherwise be unreachable on a regular bicycle because of factors such as a rider’s age, physical health and/or stamina. Further, there are an increasing number of Maine families that are using cargo e-bikes as an alternative to mini-vans or the family car, transporting their children to and from school and sports practices on cargo e-bikes such as the one shown below.  

E-Cargo Bike

Given this movement, it was incumbent upon the Maine Legislature to update Maine’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code to ensure that the Code: (1) properly and adequately defined e-bikes and other types of conveyances on our roadways, (2) set forth clear guidelines on where e-bikes are legally permitted to travel, (3) provided for consumer protections, (4) contained safety protections for children, and (5) enhanced the ability of law enforcement officers, insurers, judicial officers and jurors to properly perform their duties.  

Legislative Legwork

In 2018, Legislator Deane Rykerson of Kittery, who is an avid bicycle rider and a tireless advocate for the environment, recognized the value of e-bikes and the need for more clarity and protections in the law surrounding e-bikes.  He drafted and submitted LD 1222, An Act Regarding Electric Bikes, with the help of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, People for Bikes, the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association, and Environmental Planner Damon Yakovleff, who is shown above with his daughter and their e-bike. Input on the legislation was also sought from e-bike riders, road riders, the mountain biking community, Maine attorneys, law enforcement officers, land use planners and bike shop owners.  

Success at the State House

In the spring of 2019, a public hearing on the e-bike legislation was held by the Joint Standing Transportation Committee of the Maine Legislature.  Also, in a show of support for the legislation, Gorham Bike and Ski and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine showed up at the State House with a fleet of e-bikes for legislators and others to see, experience, and ride. Bike Law Maine and others were there as well.

Following the hearing and showing at the Legislature, the bill received a unanimous “ought to pass” with a few minor amendments at the committee level.  Soon thereafter it was engrossed with amendments and passed at the House and the Senate.

On June 17, 2019, Governor Janet Mills signed the amended legislation into law.

The New E-Bike Laws

The new e-bike laws will go into effect ninety (90) days from the end of the first session of the 129th Maine Legislature, which currently has an anticipated a closure date of June 30, 2019.  Here is a summary of what the new legislation accomplishes:

  • Clarity on What Is and Isn’t an E-bike

The new e-bike laws clearly define the term e-bicycle and include a classification system distinguishing different types of e-bicycles from one another.  Electric bicycles equipped with motors that provide assistance only when riders are pedaling and that cease to provide assistance when the bicycles reach the speed of 20 miles per hour are defined as a Class 1 e-bikes.  Electric bicycles equipped with a motors that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycles but are not capable of providing assistance when the bicycles reach the speed of 20 miles per hour are defined as Class 2 e-bikes, and electric bicycles equipped with motors that provide assistance only when the riders are pedaling and that cease to provide assistance when the bicycles reach the speed of 28 miles per hour are defined as Class 3 e-bikes.  

Shown below with Fred Robie and Chris Gagne of Gorham Bike and Ski is a Class 3 Giant LaFree e-bike.

Prior to the enactment of this legislation, Maine’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code did not explicitly define the term “e-bicycle,” which resulted in confusion about whether e-bikes were mopeds, bicycles, motorized bicycles, motorized scooters, motor vehicles, vehicles and/or something else. In addition, e-bikes were sometimes glommed together with homemade motorized bicycles fueled by gasoline.  Not only has that confusion been eliminated by the addition of the inclusion and definition of the term electric bike in the “Definitions” section of the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, but other conveyances (e.g. motorized scooters, mopeds, etc.) now explicitly exclude of e-bikes from their definitions.

The new e-bike laws also make it clear that once a person tampers with or modifies a conveyance that is classified as an e-bike such that it can exceed the speeds for which it was designed and sold, the conveyance no longer remains an e-bike under Maine law and its users are not afforded the rights and protections afforded to e-bike users.

  • Guidance on Where E-bikes May Travel

Under the new legislation, Class 1 and 2 e-bike riders are provided the same rights, travel privileges and duties as non-motorized bicycle riders with a few important exceptions.

Class 1 and 2 e-bikes may travel on roadways and public ways like regular bikes, but a municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over a bicycle path may prohibit the operation of a Class 1 e-bike or a Class 2 e-bike on that bicycle path, regardless of the surface of the path.

Further, the new e-bike laws affirmatively prohibits Class 1 and 2 e-bikes on any bike paths “designated for non-motorized traffic if significant portions of the trails have a natural surface, including gravel, stones or wooden bridging” (e.g. single-track or minimally improved mountain-bike-type-trails) unless authorized by the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over the bicycle path.  

Similarly, Maine’s new e-bike laws make it clear that Class 3 e-bikes may not be operated on any bicycle path unless they are “within a highway or roadway or the bicycle path has been authorized for the operation of Class 3 electric bicycles by the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over the bicycle path.”

These restrictions were developed after consideration of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) Guidance to New England Bicycle Dealers Regarding the Issue of Electric Mountain Bikes and are intended, among other things, to give control over e-bike use on local trail systems to local managers.  These restrictions are also designed to manage e-bike speeds on off-road trails and prevent collisions between different types of trail users.  It is also hoped that they will encourage sustainable trail use, protect public lands, and preserve and promote the enjoyment of trail systems by a wide range of users.

  • Consumer Protections

  The new e-bike laws offer several important consumer protections, including: (a) language requiring manufacturer and distributer disclosures regarding the e-bike’s Classification, top speed and wattage, (b) a non-tampering provision, (c) a speedometer requirement, and (d) mandatory compliance with equipment and manufacturing requirements for bicycles adopted by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.  These provisions are designed to ensure that Maine people are riding, renting and using bicycles that are safe for them and street-worthy. In addition, these provisions help consumers know what types of bikes they are operating and their corresponding legal obligations. Further, they incentivize people to only ride e-bikes that meet the requirements set forth in Maine law, as certain rights and protections are afforded to e-bike users that are not necessarily afforded to ad-hoc motorized bikes.

  • Safety Protections for Children

Children are offered several safety protections under Maine’s new e-bike laws.  Namely, the laws prohibit children who are under the age of sixteen from operating Class 2 and 3 e-bikes and require children under sixteen to wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet when operating or traveling as a passenger on an e-bike.

  • Enforceability

Maine’s new e-bike laws are also anticipated to make it easier for law enforcement officers, state agencies, judicial officers and others to understand and help enforce the “Rules of the Road.”

Under current Maine law, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an e-bike from other types of motorized bikes. There is also confusion in the State of Maine as to whether the operators of bikes with motors need to have licenses and register their bicycles, and it is unclear where people may ride e-bikes and other motorized bikes. Accordingly, when there are conflicts or crashes on Maine roadways involving e-bikes or other motorized bikes, law enforcement officers are often at a loss as to whether they should issue citations, whether and how to complete a crash report, and what types of information exchanges are appropriate.  Likewise, insurance companies, attorneys, judges and juries must debate the ambiguities in the law, which can be very time consuming and expensive.

The new e-bike laws are expected to help law enforcement officer determine whether a person is operating an e-bike and whether financial responsibility, license and other requirements apply. In addition, the new laws should make it easier for law enforcement officers to ticket non-compliant or dangerous operators or e-bike riders who threaten public safety.  Finally, in the event of a crash or a collision involving an e-bike, or a lawsuit involving an e-bike operator, the new statutory guidance on the rights and duties of e-bike operators should make it easier for a judge or a jury to understand and apply the law to the facts of a case.

Keeping Pace and Staying Aware

Once the new e-bike laws go into effect, Maine will be among the states that have updated and clarified their Motor Vehicle and Traffic Codes to address the increasing presence of e-bikes in the United States.  See National Conference of State Legislatures, State Electric Bike Laws / A Legislative Primer; People for Bikes, E-bike Regulations; Bryan Waldman, Charlie Thomas, Kurt Holzer, and Lauri Boxer-Macomber, What You Should Know About Electric Bikes and The Law.  

While Maine’s new e-bike laws share some similarities and language with e-bike legislation in some other states, Mainers who ride e-bikes in other states should know that e-bike laws vary from state to state.  Before traveling in another state on an e-bike, riders should familiarize themselves with the specific e-bike laws of that state.

E-bike riders, event organizers, bicycle shop owners, and others may also find it helpful to consult with their insurance carriers about coverage issues surrounding e-bikes.  It is important to note that not all insurance policies cover e-bikes. Also, definitions of terms like “motor vehicles” and “motorized vehicles” used in insurance policies are not always consistent with those in state or federal laws and may impact e-bike coverage.  

What to Do In the Event of an E-Bike Crash, Collision or Incident

Persons involved in e-bike crashes, e-bike collisions, e-bike incidents, or e-bike insurance claims should know that e-bike cases can be exceptionally complex and very fact dependent.  Consultation with an attorney familiar not only with personal injury law, but also with the nuances of e-bikes and insurance provisions is recommended. As with any bicycle-related crash, it is also recommended to review the tips found in this piece: What to Do If You Are Involved in a Bicycle Accident (no, Crash!)

Questions

If you have further questions on Maine’s current or new e-bike laws, do not hesitate to contact me at:  Lauri Boxer-Macomber, Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman, 53 Exchange Street, Portland, ME 04101. Phone: (207) 615-1926 / Email: [email protected] If you have questions regarding e-bikes in other states, check out Bike Law’s National network of attorneys here:  www.bikelaw.com

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