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Bicycles with Electric Assist and Electric Scooters Could Soon Be Under New Law Regulations

By Anastasia M. McCarthy, Esq.

An act awaiting the Governor's signature gives individual municipalities authority to decide whether (and if so, to regulate the use of) e-scooters and electric assist bicycles may be used and rented within the municipality’s boundaries. The law applies to bicycles and scooters owned by individuals and those provided by ride-sharing companies.

What does the law do?
Gives individual municipalities authority to decide whether (and if so, to regulate the use of) e-scooters and electric assist bicycles may be used and rented within the municipality’s boundaries—the law applies to such bicycles and scooters owned by individuals and those provided by ride-sharing companies. The law provides specific parameters for allowable scooters and bicycles, limits permissible operators and passengers to individuals at least 16 years of age, and further requires, prohibits, and/or allows:

  • Requires that “in addition to complying with all of the rules, regulations and provisions applicable to bicycles contained [in § 1242 of the VTL], bicycles with electric assist shall operate in a manner so that the electric motor is disengaged or ceases to function when the brakes are applied or when the rider stops pedaling, or operate in a manner such that the electric motor is engaged through a switch or mechanism that, when released, will cause the electric motor to disengage or cease to function.”
  • Prohibits operation and/or parking of said bicycles and/or scooters on public sidewalks except as authorized by local law or ordinance.
  • By June 2021, no person or corporation in the business of selling or leasing said bicycles or scooters shall lease applicable equipment unless such bicycle or scooter has the following information permanently affixed, in a prominent location:a manufacturer’s label with the class, maximum motor-assisted speed, and motor wattage (scooters must additionally display the number of persons the scooter is designed and equipped to carry). By 2021, manufacturers and distributors of such bicycles and scooters shall establish a process by which an owner of an electric assist bicycle may request and obtain a manufacturer’s label with the foregoing information.Failure to comply with these requirements is punishable by civil fine of up to $50.
  • For bicycles and scooters owned by ride-sharing companies (“shared bicycle systems”) and leased to individuals in the community, all trip data, personal information, images, videos, and other recorded images collected by the company must be obtained for the exclusive use of the company and cannot be sold, distributed, or otherwise made available for any commercial purpose and shall not be disclosed or otherwise made accessible except to the person who is the subject of the data, or if necessary, to comply with a court order, judicial warrant, or subpoena. The company may use the information obtained in the operation of the shared bicycle system.Personal information is defined as information that identifies an individual, including but not limited to name, address, telephone number, and the type and form of payment, including credit car number, debit card number or other payment.
  • Requires that traffic laws apply to persons using electric scooters, including local laws related to operating electric scooters, clinging to other vehicles (not allowed), riding on roadways, shoulders, and lanes reserved for non-motorized vehicles (must use bicycle lanes, or ride on far right-side curb lane, but must heed pedestrians, those moving at a slower pace, animals etc. and when riding in a group, must be single file); lamps (required at night), audible signals, (also required, but may not include a whistle or siren) and brakes (required); leaving the scene of an accident (this is a criminal offense). Ultimately “Every person riding an electric scooter upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle and the rider of a bicycle [except] as to those provision of this title which by their nature can have no application.”
  • No electric scooter may carry more persons than the number the scooter is designed and equipped to carry.Passengers may not be carried in a pack fastened to the operator or fastened to the electric scooter.
  • No person operating an electric scooter may carry any package, bundle or article that prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars or which obstructs his or her view in any direction.
  • Operators must yield the right of way to pedestrians.

 
What kinds of equipment does the law apply to?
Bicycles and scooters with motors of 750 watts or less and operable pedals, which fall within one of three classes:

  1. Class One Bicycles with Electric Assist—Bicycles with electric motors that assist the rider only when the person using the bicycle is pedaling and ceases to assist once the bicycle reaches 20 MPH;
  2. Class Two Bicycles with Electric Assist—Bicycles with electric motors that are used exclusively to propel the bicycle and that is not capable of aiding the driver when the bicycle reaches 20 MPH;
  3. Class Three Bicycle with Electric Assist—Solely within cities with populations of one million or more, a bicycle with an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel and that is not capable of assisting the driver when the bicycle reaches 25 MPH.
  4. And electric scooters, defined as devices weighing less than 100 pounds with handlebars, a floorboard that the operator stands upon, and powered by an electric motor and/or human power.The maximum speed allowed is 20 MPH on a paved, level surface when powered solely by the electric motor.

 
What are the concerns/risks for municipalities that choose to welcome these devices?
Municipalities that plan to allow use of electric bicycles or scooters must examine and amend local ordinances to address additional safety concerns.  Specifically, municipalities should take care to safeguard public sidewalks to prevent collisions and clearly define when (seasonally and time of day or night) and where people may use electric scooters and bicycles.  Notably, critics of the law point out that the law does not require riders to utilize any kind of safety equipment, such as helmets or reflective clothing.

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