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Are electric bikes and scooters legal in the UK? The law explained

Confused about UK electric bike laws and regulations that extend to motorcycles, scooters and mopeds? We explain all

Smart eScooter and eBike

While electrification is revolutionising the car industry, a similar disruption is also taking place in the world of two-wheeled mobility. Electric assistance is being adopted across different models of bikes, scooters, mopeds and even motorbikes as we all look to lower our environmental impact by reducing transportation emissions.

It’s no surprise that many people have been left confused and uncertain about the laws and regulations governing these two and three-wheeled plug-in vehicles. We’ve put together this guide to bring you up to speed with everything you need to know, including what the law states about rider eligibility and where they can and cannot be used.

Electric scooters

Whether you love or loathe these speedy city-surfers, the law surrounding them is very clear. Electric scooters fall under the Government’s ‘powered transporters’ or Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV) category – a term that covers a variety of ‘novel transport devices’. This includes Segways, hoverboards, go-peds and powered unicycles.

Electric scooters are classified as motor vehicles and it’s therefore illegal to ride them on the road without tax, insurance, lights and number plates. Complying with this is practically impossible, however – try finding an insurer to cover you, for a start. It’s also illegal to use e-scooters on footpaths, cycle lanes and bridleways. The only place they can be ridden legally is on private land with the landowner's permission. Those caught riding illegally can be given a £300 fixed-penalty notice and six points on their driving licence (if they have one).

If you've seen these electric scooters in towns and cities and wondered whether they're legal, government and council-sanctioned trials are currently taking place across selected regions of England until March 2022. The trials are taking place in urban regions to assess the viability of e-scooters on our roads. While their benefits are likely to include reductions in both congestion and pollution in built-up areas, we'll have to wait for the end of the trial in March 2022 before we hear the official verdict.

It's important to note, however, that it's illegal to use your own electric scooter on public roads or on pavements, even within the boundaries of the government-mandated trial regions. Currently, the only way to ride an e-scooter legally on British roads is to use one provided by an approved rental operator as part of the trial, restricted to a maximum speed of 15.5mph, within a participating region. As part of the trial, the participating e-scooter suppliers provide insurance for riders as standard. A change in the law will be required to allow e-scooters to legally take to UK roads or pavements; it's likely that scooters will end up being speed-limited, but riders will not be required to wear helmets.

Electric mopeds and motorbikes

Electric motorbikes, like conventionally powered motorbikes and mopeds, are categorised by power and speed and different laws apply for different kinds of bikes. The same rules apply to tricycles and light quadricycles.

15.5mph or less

If an electric motorbike or moped has pedals, a maximum top speed of 15.5mph and a motor with an output of less than 250W, it's treated the same as an eBike. This means you can legally ride one anywhere you can ride a normal bicycle. You don’t need a car or bike licence, a number plate, tax disc or MOT. The rider needs to be over 14 years of age.

28mph or less

The next category deals with bikes restricted to a top speed of 28mph. The law treats these in the same way as 50cc scooters, so riders must wear a helmet, the bike must be registered for tax (but road tax is free for electric bikes), wear a number plate and have an MoT once it hits three years old. You can’t ride these vehicles on motorways or in cycle lanes.

To ride one, you need to be at least 16 years old and have a provisional driving licence. You also need to take a CBT test and put L-plates on your bike, and you can’t carry a passenger. If you passed your driving test before 2001, you don’t need to sit a CBT or display L-plates.

Electric motorbikes and mopeds qualify for a government plug-in vehicle grant. The grant applies to electric motorcycles costing up to £10,000, which receive 35% off the list price up to a maximum of £500, while mopeds get 35% off list, up to a maximum of £150.

28mph+ electric motorbikes and mopeds

For bikes with a top speed faster than 28mph and a power output of 11kW (125cc) or less, riders need a full driving licence and must pass a CBT test every two years. You also have to display L-plates on your bike.

Moving up to higher-output electric bikes, riders need to gain the appropriate motorbike licence for the size of bike they want to ride. They can do this in one of two ways; by taking a direct access course or progressing through the licences as they gain experience.

The motorbike licence categories are:

    •    AM licence: 16 and over can ride an electric bike with a top speed of no more than 28mph     •    A1 licence: 17 and over for an electric bike up to 11kW, the equivalent of a 125cc bike     •    A2 licence: 19 and over for a bike up to 35kW     •    A licence: 24 and over. Any sized bike

We've even made a list of the best electric motorbikes available right now, if you're thinking of getting one.

eBikes

eBikes, or to give them their official name, Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles, are legal to ride in England, Scotland and Wales as long as they meet certain requirements and you're over 14 years of age. As the law stands, an eBike must have pedals that propel it, an electric motor that won’t assist you beyond 15.5mph and a battery pack that doesn’t exceed 250W of power.

They don't qualify for a Government grant, but you can make substantial savings through the Cycle to Work scheme, which has now removed its £1,000 cap. You don’t need a licence to ride one and it doesn’t need to be registered, taxed or insured. You can ride an eBike anywhere you can legally ride a conventional bicycle.

There is a but, of course. If you go for one of the faster S-pedelec bikes, with a top speed of 28mph and a more powerful motor, things become more complicated. In the government’s eyes, this is effectively a moped and can’t be ridden in cycle lanes.

You also need a driving licence, a number plate, insurance and tax for an S-pedelec. Tax is free, but you still have to register the bike to keep within the law. You’ll also need a kite-marked motorbike-style helmet and an MoT after the bike is three years old. If you passed your driving test before 2001, you don’t need to take a CBT test. If you did so after this date, you do.

In Northern Ireland, slightly different rules apply: all eBikes – regardless of power output or top speed – are classified as mopeds and require you to follow the rules set out for mopeds and motorbikes with a top speed up to 28mph.

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