House OKs Kislak bill to clarify laws for electric bicycles
STATE HOUSE – The rules of the road will be clearer for riders of electric bicycles under legislation sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak and passed by the House of Representatives today.
The legislation (2022-H 7839A) updates Rhode Island law to reflect modern electric bicycles, which have become an increasingly popular transportation and recreation option, and establishes that they are to be considered bicycles, not motor vehicles, in the eyes of the law.
It answers the question of whether electric bikes — which vary in technology, but generally can achieve top speeds of 20 or 28 miles per hour — are allowed on pedestrian and bike paths: yes, as long as they comply with posted speed limits. On paths without posted speed limits, the bill imposes a 20 MPH limit for e-bikes.
“Electric bikes have opened up bicycling for many people who might not otherwise try it, and it has made bicycling a more attractive transportation option for lots of people. E-bikes have become common on our roads and recreation paths, so we need to update our laws so everyone — riders, law enforcement and our cities and towns — is on the same page about what an electric bicycle is and what you can do with one,” said Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Importantly, this legislation makes it clear that e-bikes are bicycles, not motor vehicles, so their riders should follow the rules that apply to bikes. This is how e-bikes are being regulated in many other states that have updated their laws.”
Electric bicycles have a small electric motor that provides assistance to the bike rider. In recent years, they have developed into three classes:
· Class 1: Pedal-assist electric bicycle — The rider must be pedaling for the motor to engage, has a top speed of 20 miles per hour.
· Class 2: Throttle-assist electric bicycle — The motor can provide power independently of whether the rider is pedaling, has top speed of 20 miles per hour.
· Class 3: Pedal-assist electric bicycle with a top speed of 28 miles per hour.
The legislation would recognize the three-class system, aligning Rhode Island with federal laws and laws in 36 other states, and require that new e-bikes bear a permanent label from by the manufacture indicating their class, top speeds and other motor information. Faster Class 3 e-bicycles would also be required to be equipped with speedometers.
The bill would also require helmets on any rider 15 or younger on any type of e-bike, and for all riders of Class 3 e-bikes. It would prohibit those under 16 from riding a class 3 e-bike, except as a passenger.
To maintain uniformity throughout the state for riders, the bill prohibits cities and towns from imposing additional limits on e-bikes, except by regulating speed limits.
“I’m proud of this bill, because it safely encourages the use of a healthy, zero-carbon form of transportation that many more Rhode Islanders will be adopting as time goes on. As we work toward our goals of reducing carbon emissions, e-bikes will help expand opportunities for some people to replace some car trips with bikes,” said Representative Kislak.
The legislation now heads to the Senate.