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Information Sheet – Electric Bicycles

Electric Bicycles

What is an Electric Bicycle?

An electric bicycle (or e-bike) is a bicycle with a motorised assistance.

There are two types of legal motorised bicycles:-

  1. Those that require the cyclist to move the pedals to maintain electrical assistance (pedalec); and
  2. Bicycles with a handlebar throttle, that allow a cyclist to travel without using the pedals1

Design Rules / Requirements

The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national standards which dictate vehicle requirements. For vehicles manufactured post-1989, the application of the ADRs is the responsibility of the Federal Government pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (Cth).

In 2012, changes were announced to the national vehicle safety standards in relation to power-assisted bicycles.

There are two types of legal motorised bicycles in Queensland (as described above) and the requirements vary for each. The pedalec type of bicycle must comply with the European Standard for Power Assisted Pedal Cycles (EN15194). The bicycle can have a maximum of only 250 watts of power and must be marked to show that it complies with the standard.

Bicycles with a handlebar throttle can have a motor that generates no more than 200 watts of power. If it is capable of generating more than 200 watts of power or has an internal combustion engine, then the bicycle must comply with Australian Design Rules for a motorbike and cannot be ridden on roads or road-related areas if it does not comply with these standards.

Do riders of Electric Bicycles have to comply with the Road Rules?

Yes. Bicycles are considered vehicles under legislation in Queensland, and so riders must obey the general road rules as they apply to vehicle operators.

 

1NB – The pedals should still be the primary source of power for the bicycle. If a rider can complete a journey without using the pedals and powered solely by the motor, then this would not be classed as a motorised bicycle

By Emily Billiau and Gemma Sweeney

Case Study – The Motorised Bicycle

Hendricks v El-Dik & Insurance Australia Limited T/AS NRMA Insurance (No 4) [2016] ACTSC 160

This decision involved a Plaintiff cyclist who was injured when he was struck by a motor vehicle driven by the First Defendant.

The Plaintiff had been cycling home from his workplace. His route took him along a cycle path which included a section that cut across a number of driveways, including the driveway of the First Defendant motorist.

As the Plaintiff cyclist approached the driveway of the First Defendant, the First Defendant reversed out of his driveway and into the path of the Plaintiff cyclist – causing the Plaintiff cyclist to collide heavily with the passenger side of the vehicle.

Unfortunately, the Plaintiff’s head collided with the vehicle. The Plaintiff sustained significant spinal injuries and was rendered a quadriplegic.

Relevantly, the Plaintiff’s bicycle was fitted with a 500W capacity electric motor.

Although damages were agreed between the parties at $12 million, liability could not be agreed and the matter proceeded to trial.

The Defendants alleged that the Plaintiff cyclist was contributory negligent (that is, that they cyclist’s negligence contributed to the harm he suffered.) The alleged grounds of the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence were as follows:-

  • Operating a registrable but unregistered bicycle powered by a 500W motor on the path;
  • Travelling at an excessive speed;
  • Failing to keep a proper lookout;
  • Failing to have a horn installed on the bicycle; and
  • Failing to deviate from the path rather than continue along the path across the driveway.

The Plaintiff was found contributory negligent in the order of 25% on the basis that he failed to keep a proper lookout. The other grounds were not made out.

Interestingly, the issue of the electric motor that was fixed to the bicycle was examined in some detail.

Unbeknownst to the Plaintiff, the law in the ACT required that the capacity of the electric motor not exceed 200W. The Plaintiff cyclist argued that there was no causal link between the increased capacity of his motor (500W) and the damage suffered by him. In the circumstances, he contended that there were insufficient grounds for a finding of contributory negligence on that basis.

Expert evidence was adduced at the trial showing that the bicycle’s maximum speed with the motor was no greater than 24km/hr, and that the Plaintiff cyclist had been travelling at a speed of between 15 and 20km/hr at the time of the accident. This speed was said to be similar to the speed adopted by other users of the particular bicycle path.

The Court ultimately accepted that the legality of the motor was not relevant, finding no causal link between the increased capacity and the damage suffered by the Plaintiff cyclist.

By Emily Billiau and Gemma Sweeney