Electric bike and scooter regulations UK: the law explained
It's not only cars that are going through an electrification revolution. Bikes, scooters, mopeds and motorbikes are turning to electric power as the world moves towards a more environmentally friendly future.
Unlike cars, though, the laws for two and three-wheeled plug-in vehicles aren't clear-cut. If you’re confused about the regulations that apply to riding such machines, this comprehensive guide will tell you where you can ride them and what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law.
Commuter godsends or the scourge of the city? We’ll let you decide, but the rules are pretty clear. Electric scooters fall under the Government’s ‘powered transporters’ or Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEV) category and the term covers a variety of ‘novel transport devices’. This includes Segways, hoverboards, go-peds and powered unicycles.
Despite the rising popularity of e-scooters, the law is clear on their use. They're 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).
It's important to note that while the use of electric scooters is technically illegal both on the road and pavement, as of April 2020 the Parliamentary Transport Committee is holding a consultation into e-scooters and their safety, legality and environmental impact.
This follows a consultation already underway by the Department for Transport (DfT). A change in the law will be required to allow e-scooters to legally take to UK roads or pavements; both of these consultations are examining if this is possible. The DfT’s consultation will end with a trial period, with scooters speed-limited but riders not required to wear helmets.
While this period was originally due to take place in 2021, in May 2020 the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the trial would be brought forward to June 2020, and expanded from a select number of local authorities to any council that wants to try the scooters. Scooters will be limited to 12.5mph during the trail but this could climb to 15.5mph depending on consultation results. A 350W limit on motor power has also been floated, as has the question of whether or not scooters should be allowed in cycle lanes.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has suggested that the fast-tracking of the trial will encourage scooter rental schemes to get up and running, helping to reduce short car journeys and take pressure off bus services. Shapps also suggested that the scooters could help continue the improved air quality trends seen during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.
In 2019, a number of high-profile accidents involving e-scooters – some of which can hit 40mph – saw Transport for London call for regulations to be put in place. The consultations currently underway are the first steps towards clear laws pertaining specifically to e-scooters and their use.
While e-scooters are legal in various countries all over the world, their legalisation in the UK is still not assured.
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 the same 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 low-emissions plug-in vehicle grant. The grant gives you 20% off the cost of a brand-new motorbike or moped, capped at a maximum of £1,500.
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
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.