Greater Greater Washington

Maryland might allow many mopeds on trails, sidewalks, and highways, even for children

Hoping to encourage the sale and use of small motorized bicycles, Maryland's House of Delegates passed a bill allowing anyone to drive some mopeds anywhere a bicycle is allowed, including streets, trails and sidewalks. But did lawmakers understand what this bill will mean?


Photo by Earthworm on Flickr.

If it becomes law, someone could operate even a one-horsepower electric vehicle capable of driving up to 20 mph on trails or many sidewalks in the state, and children could drive one on the highway.

House Bill 205 would give Maryland one of the least restrictive electric bicycle laws in the United States. Maryland currently allows mopeds on streets, but not on trails or sidewalks. As with all motor vehicles, moped drivers must have a license and liability insurance. The bill would dispense with all of these restrictions for mopeds with an electric motor that cuts off when traveling faster than 20 mph.

Like Europe (but not most other states), Maryland would impose no minimum age, require neither a driver's license nor insurance, and allow them on trails and some sidewalks. But unlike Europe, these privileges associated with bicycles would apply for electric bikes with as much as one horsepower.

What is a moped?

Maryland law treats mopeds as a hybrid between motor vehicle and human-powered vehicles. Yet there is a continuum from very small electric motors mainly used to help people up hills, to 1.5 horsepower motors for a vehicle which a human would only propel if it runs out of power. The law must draw a line to define the vehicles that require insurance and a drivers license, from those that require neither and will be allowed to mix with pedestrians on trails and sidewalks.

Americans are still deciding where to draw that line. "I've seen folks try to set it based on size, speed, and horsepower, but there's always a new innovation that makes it unworkable," says a local bicycling advocate. "I want motorized assistance to be available to people, but I don't want people riding primarily motorized vehicles at unsafe speeds on trails." Michael Jackson, a bicycle expert with the Maryland Department of Transportation, says the same standards should apply whether the motor is powered by fuel or electricity.

The European Union draws the line at 250 watts or 1/3 horsepower, which is roughly the amount of power a cyclist can sustain for a few minutes. The power must gradually diminish with speed, and cut off completely at 15 mph. So if the motor is no stronger than a human being (albeit one who does not get tired), the vehicle can be treated as human-powered.

In the United States, the legal patchwork is more confusing, largely because the federal government regulates manufacturing while individual states regulate where and by whom they can be driven. The federal definition of electric bikes is essentially a moped with an electric motor less than 1 horsepower which cuts off at 20 mph.

States can draw the line elsewhere for trails and driver's licenses, but so far they have not. Instead, most states lump both heavy and light electric bikes together, and impose more restrictions than for bicycles but fewer than for motor vehicles. About half the states require a driver's license. Most states have a minimum age and prohibit them on trails and sidewalks.

Steve Carr of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources points out that park managers can issue rules more restrictive than state law: "We will not allow motorized vehicles on our trails, other than motorized wheelchairs."

Did lawmakers understand the bill?

The House of Delegates may not have realized what it was doing. The bill's sponsor, Allegany County Delegate Kevin Kelly, and his witnesses only told the Environmental Matters Committee (MP3, 4.2 MB) that the bill was needed to make state law conform to federal law. But Kelly didn't explain that the federal law deals with consumer protection while the state law addresses who can drive the vehicles, and where.

The bill's only co-sponsor from the Washington area is Delegate Barbara Frush (D-College Park). Reached by phone, her staff could not determine whether she realized what the bill would do.

House Bill 205 does not explicitly declare that children can drive some mopeds on the street. Nor does it say that some mopeds will be allowed on trails or sidewalks. But it allows children to drive mopeds, and for mopeds to go on trails or sidewalks, by changing the definition of a bicycle.

The universally understood definition of bicycle is a two-wheeled vehicle propelled by human power, and the law essentially uses that definition today. Under the new law, the definition of a bicycle will be a two-wheeled vehicle propelled either by human power or by an electric motor with less than one horsepower.

Whether allowing children to drive mopeds on highways was intended or not, it illustrates the problem of accomplishing legislative goals by revising the definition of a commonly understood word like "bicycle" to mean something else. The more straightforward approach would be to define the new class of vehicle and explicitly define its rights and duties.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for March 18. The Committee will also consider House Bill 250, which changes the definition of bicycles to include all mopeds.

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Jim Titus lived aboard a 75-foot coast guard cutter at Buzzards Point boatyard in southwest Washington until he was 2. Since then he has lived in Prince George's County, going to school in Ft. Washington, Accokeek, and College Park before moving to Glenn Dale. He represents Prince George's on the state of Maryland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and is on the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Professionally, he works for a federal agency, which asks not to be identified. 

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I'm just going to defer to the judgement of others on this. If it's technically legal to drive a moped on the highway, but it doesn't have the ability to keep up with traffic, you know the cops won't stand for that and you're probably going to die before they pull you over anyway. If you're riding a moped on a trail then you're obviously not looking to get from A to B in the fastest way possible or you'd use a road, so just respect others' speed and we'll all be fine.

by davebo on Mar 13, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

I'm all for electric assisted bicycles. The FT has a good piece about their rapid adoption in Europe. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/6f4bdbdc-a5de-11e3-9818-00144feab7de.html

I'll credit Maryland for at least looking for ways to encourage their adoption.

by kob on Mar 13, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

"The federal definition of electric bikes is essentially a moped with an electric motor less than 1 horsepower which cuts off at 20 mph. "

"Essentially a moped" is a very big, and largely subjective (and incorrect) statement based on your own opinion. It's clear that you consider e-bikes and mopeds (this statement, plus the fact you linked to an e-bike but called it a moped, and selected a picture the most non-bicycle looking e-bike on the market), but that's simply not the case.

In addition, the bill in question isn't proposing to "allow mopeds on trails", but looking to legally define electric bikes. Again, I know that you think that they are one in the same but seeing as how the bill in question is looking to define it, you choosing your own definition and re-interpreting the intent of the bill is misleading at best.

Having owned two electric bikes over the past 5 years (though my primary vehicle is my regular bike--the e-bike was the car-replacer brought out for longer and more difficult trips/convenience), and having lived in a country where mopeds are extremely common, I can tell you that the two are in no way comparable.

Different laws for e-bikes make sense, of course, which is why a logical first step is to legally define them. If you think that up to 1hp and up to 20mph is too high a threshold (debatable for me--never seen one that powerful) or if you don't think e-bikes belong on sidewalks (I agree) or trails (debatable in my opinion), address those issues, but don't twist events into something they're not.

by Catherine on Mar 13, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

Having owned two electric bikes over the past 5 years... I can tell you that the two are in no way comparable.

The question is whether this definition is comparable to a moped, not the ones you've owned. You are right that most ebikes sold now are less than 1hp (about 750W).

Jim is exactly saying that 1hp and 20mph is too high a threshold - because at that threshold you're basically talking a moped.

by MLD on Mar 13, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Catherine. Thank you for your detailed reply.

You seem to be suggesting that the purpose of the bill is something other than what I show it does (i.e., remove bikes with electric motors up to one horsepower from the restrictions faced by drivers of mopeds). Can you explain what you think that purpose is? What is the need to "legally define" electric bikes in state law, if not to change the restrictions they face?

Can you explain why you don't think that electric bikes are mopeds? They have motors and pedals. What else must a vehicle have to be a moped. The Maryland Code is clear that electric bikes are mopeds:

§ 11-134.1. Moped. "Moped" means a bicycle that:
(1) Is designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor;
(2) Is equipped with pedals that mechanically drive the rear wheel or wheels;
(3) Has two or three wheels, of which one is more than 14 inches in diameter; and
(4) Has a motor with a rating of 1.5 brake horsepower or less and, if the motor is an internal combustion engine, a capacity of 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement or less.

And by the way, would you care to offer an opinion about why this bill departs from the federal definition of of "low-speed electric vehicle" if not to move electric bikes from the restrictions that face mopeds?

by Jim Titus on Mar 13, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

No gas powered vehicles on the trails, please. E-assist fine, up to reasonable speed, but let's keep the air clean and the noise down on the MUPs.

by Greenbelt on Mar 13, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Well if that's the point he's trying to make, then that's the point he should make. "Maryland's proposed threshold for e-bikes is too high" not "Maryland's going to let mopeds on sidewalks".

It doesn't appear that that's his point, though--he seems to not want to allow any e-bikes on sidewalks and trails (and while I may disagree on one of those points, I see the issue and it's a perfectly valid desire). As written (lumping *all* e-bikes in with mopeds, even those that adhere to the smaller European standard) would ban all e-bikes from trails. Arguing for a lower threshold would only keep the more powerful ones that you both think are more moped-like off the trails. I'll go with your opinion that the big ones are more moped than bike because I've truthfully never seen one that big.

And again, if the point of the bill is to create a legal definition of a thing, writing an article with your own pre-established (but not outlined) definition of the thing focused on the possible and extreme detrimental outcomes is either simply reactionary or less-than-honest and I've come to expect more from Greater Greater Washington.

by Catherine on Mar 13, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

@Jim

Sorry, I was typing to MLD when you replied. I think part of the problem is that definitions and perceptions of mopeds vary from state to state. In many places, mopeds have internal combustion engines and can go up to 35 mph and I think that knowing that perception (regardless of the legal definition which most people don’t know) and still using the term to describe an e-bike is disingenuous.

The key difference (besides the internal combustion engine which is huge) is horsepower and unassisted top speed. The 750W mentioned by MLD (and certainly the 250W that the ones I’ve owned) is a far cry from 1.5 horsepower and the unassisted top speed tends to be 15-20 mph. They (and I mean the standard e-bikes, not the upper limit possibility) are simply not mopeds. But because the law was written “1.5hp or less”, anything that came along after would automatically be classified a “moped” regardless of any actual resemblance to a moped. This was established before e-bikes existed and because of the notable differences between regular bikes and mopeds, they’re generally considered to be a new class of vehicle. I assume that’s why they’re revisiting this. The existing law does not reflect current reality.

I’m not sure about the federal definition of low speed electric vehicle. I tried to find it and can’t but I’m assuming that it, like the existing Maryland law, was written before e-bikes and possibly was meant to refer to golf carts and the like. States are usually more on top of changing technologies than the federal government is.

If you think that the proposed upper limit is too high, that’s one thing and I’m sure many people would agree with you. Heck, I’m deferring to you and MLD on this because I can’t picture an e-bike with that high a threshold. If you really can’t see a functional difference between e-bikes and what are commonly accepted to be mopeds…I don’t know.

I really don’t have any skin in this game—don’t live in Maryland, rarely go there etc. I don’t use my e-bike often and when I do it’s never on sidewalks and rarely on trails. It just seems like a really biased perspective designed to confuse. If that’s not the case, I apologize.

by Catherine on Mar 13, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

Beijing, China treats all electric bikes, those with pedals and without, those with small half horsepower motors and those with 5 hp that can get up to serious speed, the same. They can all go anywhere a bicycle can go, pretty much anywhere.

by Richard on Mar 13, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Catherine: I'm not sure whether you were planning to answer the questions I asked you, but if I have left any ambiguity about my concern, perhaps this will clarify.

1. If you listen to the 4-minute hearing on the bill , all the sponsors and proponents say is that the purpose of the bill is simply to define "electric bike" in the Maryland code. They did not say why that is necessary, or what the effects would be. So perhaps the House voted without even knowing what the effect would be.

2. Legislators should know what the effects of a bill will be, and not imply that they are simply providing a definition when, in fact, they are doing alot more.

3. The bill does not merely define "electric bikes". It also defines "bicycle" to include electric bikes. You seem to think I am mistaken when I use the term "moped" as the term was originally defined: a vehicle with pedals and a motor. But this bill defines "bicycle" to mean something it never means in commong parlance, to include anything with pedals even if it has a motor.

4. Because the substantive rules of the road for a class of motorized pedalcycles are being changed in several ways, the Legislature and maybe even the public, should talk about whether it makes sense or not. That process is being short-circuited by people who incorrectly state that the bill is just defining what an electric bike is, because that ain't true!

5. Here we emphasize the part of the story that the Legislature clearly did not understand, and try to put it in some context.

6. The correct way for a bill to proceed is to define the new vehicle, and then also prepare sections defining what the rights and reponsibiliteis of those who driver them should be. But that has not been done. Instead, the rights are being changed by quietly alterring definitions, in the guise of doing nothing but alterring the definitions.

As a gloss on all of this, your initial comments seemed to be echoing the line that all this bill does is define what the vehicle is. I see no basis for your assertion that I am being either reactive or dishonest, since I have clearly stated what the concern is. Yes, I have emphasiszed the bad part of the bill--because thats the main impact of the bill. Considering what you know about the bill now (including the fact that it does not use the federal definition of electric bike), please listen to the 4-minute hearing and explain whether you think they adequately informed the legislature of the impact of this bill.

by Jim Titus on Mar 13, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

@Catherine: Our responses crossed. Maybe my last response was mooted by yur response.

by Jim Titus on Mar 13, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

I too am concerned by the biased construction of the blog piece. But that has been addressed by earlier comments.

I see electric-assisted bikes and mopeds as different and distinguishable vehicles. But I would like to focus on electrically-assisted bikes because they have much to offer the public at large.

I have been using electric assisted bikes and trikes for years that meet the federal definition's criteria of under 1 HP and motor powered speed up to 20 MPH. Bicycles that have this type of motor assist provide a valuable contribution to the wider use of bicycles for commuting and recreation. They don't give the operator speeds that cannot be obtained by a fit bicyclist on a non-assisted bicycle. But they do provide additional range and payload capacity for commuters. They also can make a bicycle trip viable that has a steep hill on the route because they can bring the trip into the fitness level of the bicyclist and/or reduce the effort for those that cannot shower and change clothes at the end of a trip.

If this bill helps the adoption of technology that provides the benefits I've cited than I'd like to see the measure adopted, possibly with language that could address negative consequences I have not mentioned. And I'd like to see electrically assisted bikes accepted by our Parks authorities at all levels of government. Electrically-assisted bikes should be allowed on sidewalks as bikes are (in Montgomery County). Often there are segments of a trip that begin or end with a stretch of sidewalk as the only-or safest-access. And some bike facilities are actually sidewalks. Behavior-not category-should govern the use on sidewalks.

I think laws and regulations on bicycles should focus on the operation of the machine rather than categorically exclude electrically-assisted bikes.

I have a fleet of Cyclesmaximus pedicabs/cargo trikes that will average between 10 and 15 MPH on flat and slightly inclined roads when I both pedal and apply power to the hub motor. That is better for the traffic around me and my own safety than pedaling at 5-10 MPH on the same roads without the electric assist. The cargo capacity of these bikes is also improved which means more types of trips that I can use a bicycle for instead of a car or truck.

I'm excited about the potential that electrically-assisted bikes have to make our natural and built environments accessible to a wider range of people for a wider range of trips. That includes enabling the disabled (including so many of our veterans) to ride with their families or alone. Also, men and women who have to commute directly to a public event or other destination without changing clothes. I'm sure there are more examples.

I have a tandem bike/wheelchair with a seven speed derailleur-the "Duet." This vehicle can be operated by a wider range of family or friends with an electric hub motor and can't be ridden fast. It's not a motorized wheelchair, BTW.

Finally, I've heard of concern that some of the qualifying races for the Tour de France may be contaminated with covert electric assisted racing bikes. This goes to show that the technology is advancing to the point that electric assist bikes may become indistinguishable and thus we may be forced to focus on behavior rather than category. There is a manufacturer of an add-on motor for the Brompton that advertises the low profile nature of the product.

by Richard Hoye on Mar 13, 2014 4:51 pm • linkreport

@ Richard H.

I believe the sotires about Tour de France ebikes was either an urban myth or tongue in cheek. There's no way to hide a propulsion unit on those bikes.

by Crickey7 on Mar 13, 2014 4:59 pm • linkreport

You may well be right about the Tour de France-certainly the Tour itself is clean. But here is a link to a motor that can be concealed in a seat tube:
http://www.vivax-assist.com/en/produkte/vivax-assist.html

by Richard Hoye on Mar 13, 2014 5:26 pm • linkreport

@Richard Hoye: Can you say what the power rating of your e-bikes have been? Has insurance been a problem or extra cost?

Also can you explain which features of this bill might encourage people to use them, that is, is there something about the existing law that needs to be changed and how does that help?

by JimT on Mar 13, 2014 6:00 pm • linkreport

Also, do you have any sense of the regenerative braking ability if us that limited mainly to transferring downhill to uphill energy?

by JimT on Mar 13, 2014 6:04 pm • linkreport

Stupid, stupid legislation. Who pushed this through, the moped lobby (which I assume exists)?

by Jasper2 on Mar 13, 2014 10:30 pm • linkreport

Jim,

First, thanks for bringing the story to everyone's attention.

The current law is explained here:

http://www.mva.maryland.gov/about-mva/info/27300/27300-76T.htm

I believe it was passed in 2012.

It requires that I wear a motorcycle helmet and eye protection (eye protection is a good idea, regardless of vehicle, IMHO). The motorcycle helmet is totally in appropriate, as I hope I don't need to explain. And the fight you lead last year on a mandatory helmet law for bicyclists should offer insights on this type of legislation. Also, I don't wear a helmet of any type on my cargo trikes and pedicabs. The crash dynamics are just too different from bicycles to warrant one.

The law requires a title and tag with fees. My bicycles have electric motors fitted after market by myself. The registration is onerous and I'm not yet clear how I can get an aftermarket motor equipped bicycle through the process. I have several bicycles-well, many-that can be run with electric assist making the law even more burdensome.

The law requires that I carry insurance. As I haven't owned an automobile for nearly 20 years (can I say: "bliss!"?) I assume that I would either not be able to obtain insurance unless as a rider on an auto policy and that the cost would be a lot. My understanding is that a DC law requiring insurance for bikes has been purposefully unenforced for the reason that insurance was unavailable or exorbitant-readers can correct me, please.

The law requires the operator of an electric-assisted bicycle to have a valid driver's license. Not a problem for me but inappropriate and a barrier for others. If there is a need for licensing then that should reflect the training a bicyclist needs-like an LAB Road 1 traffic cycling course certificate.

All these requirements are for mopeds, scooters and electric-assisted bicycles because e-bikes are defined as mopeds. Thus the proposed law you discuss appears to return the status of e-bikes to the conditions existing up until the 2012 law that I describe, above.

I have been using Heinzmann hub motors on my trikes with a 600 watt rating. The Zap electric assisted bikes I have use a tiny friction motor on the rear wheels. I have a BikeE recumbent with an Ecospeed motor of about 500 watts.

Regenerative braking is not a feature I have available. It's value is limited as it takes a very big and heavy motor to absorb the brief high currents produced in braking.

I agree that the legislative process in Maryland needs fixing and that legislators should reach out to the affected communities before entering bills. But I also think that bicycle organizations should both inform their members of bills like these and should weigh in from the moral high ground.

How about a Maryland legislative season of 6 months and triple the salary? We need more deliberation from elected's that can claim their titles as their jobs.

Jim, thanks for your work.

by Richard Hoye on Mar 13, 2014 11:18 pm • linkreport

Smells like some Maryland officials are getting PAID. Has Ron Machen's counterpart in Md been alerted?

As much as some hysterical folks complain about pedalers — justifiably or not — and are pandered to by officials, I can't imagine how they signed off on this without encouragement from special interests.

Hoping to encourage the sale and use of small motorized bicycles, Maryland's House of Delegates

by @ShawingtonTimes on Mar 14, 2014 5:42 am • linkreport

I like the idea, but here in Baltimore? It'll turn into Death Race 2000, with pedestrians having to jump out of the way of these bikes, or risk getting run over. Overreacting? Not hardly; in my neighborhood the majority of cyclists who use the sidewalk expect pedestrians to move, even if said cyclist is coming up from behind at a fast clip, with no warning. Adding more speed to the mix will only add to the problem.

Helping to line the pockets of electric bike manufacturers ain't worth it.

by PigtownPrincess on Mar 14, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

How can anybody be against legalizing motor assisted bikes/trikes? Are bike purists afraid those who are less strong and healthy might start biking, too?

by asffa on Mar 14, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

@asffa: Motor-assisted bikes are legal in this area, so that is not an issue. The main question is the level of power at which it is no longer accurate to call it "motor assisted", as well as the point at which the safety risks are greater than for a bicycle (which might be at a different point for children than adults).

Do you think it is "motor assisted" if the motor provides more energy than a trained cyclist? How about if it provides three times as much energy as a trained cyclist?

by JimT on Mar 14, 2014 6:15 pm • linkreport

@asffa is right on point, JimT.

I've checked into insurance with my State Farm agent and I'm getting more info from a different agent. State Farm doesn't offer insurance to "mopeds." The owner of The Green Commuter ebike store in Takoma Park has heard nothing but frustration from customers trying to adhere to the law.

What data can you show that the law throwing up so many requirements for Motor-assisted bikes can be complied with or is in the public interest? How is the public served by the specious requirements of the law, like mandatory Motorcycle helmets, a driver's license (not even a bicycle traffic skills test) and insurance that appears to be unobtainable?

The main question to me is what body of evidence formed the basis of the 2012 law mandating all these requirements on a class of bicycle defined by federal law. Until 2012 bikes in Maryland with a motor of under 1.5 HP and a top motor-only speed of 20 MPH had to comply with the laws all bicycles follow. What was wrong with that?

Asffa's comment about "bike purists" may irk some. However, I have heard concerns from bicycle advocates that the ebike subject is a potentially divisive
issue within the bicycle community. This because of the perceived risk to public acceptance of "traditional" bicycles from ebike use that might give bikes in general a bad name.

I'm also concerned that by allowing the regulation of ebikes in such a heavy handed and specious manner we may be a step closer to applying the same approach to pedal-only bikes.

by Richard Hoye on Mar 14, 2014 7:21 pm • linkreport

JimT "Motor-assisted bikes are legal in this area, so that is not an issue." Not every jurisdiction allows their use. Last I checked, which was years ago, and determined that I would not get a bike, here you're allowed to ride them back and forth in your own driveway, but that's it.

by asffa on Mar 15, 2014 2:42 am • linkreport

@asffa: Could you refresh my memory on where you live? You didn't move to New York City recently, did you?

by JimT on Mar 15, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

@Richard Hoye:

Thanks for bringing up what might be called House Bill 149 from the year 2012.

Up until now, we have been talking about how to draw the line between heavy mopeds and light electric bikes that might face fewer restrictions. Here you have broadened the discussion a bit: Do the rules for mopeds make sense? If they don't, then we can't blame electric bike shops and owners from wanting to be exempt from those rules, though that would still leave the owners of other mopeds holding the bag.

House Bill 149 did a lot of different things, but I'll only mention the two that relate most to the points you made here.

First, you can get liability insurance for your electric mopeds from the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund if your insurance company refuses coverage. I have no idea what the cost is, though I have heard the figure $200 bandied about.

Given the structure of how that Fund works, a moped driver who does not buy insurance is called "an uninsured driver." So if a pedestrian is struck by a moped owner who does not have insurance, the injured pedestrian can be compensated by the State of Maryland (up to a statutory limit which is probably too small, but that's a different story.) Best I can tell, even before that bill, mopeds were not included in homeowners policies which include bikes but not motorized vehicles.

So here are the effects of the bill on the insurance issue on someone who owns a 500 Watt electric moped:

1. The Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund will no longer offer that owner insurance, and possibly this type of insurance will be unavailable.

2. A pedestrian who is struck by this 500-watt electric bike will not longer be able to get compensation from the State if the driver is uninsured.

3. The individual who prefers to self-insure will now have that option.

4. Poor people who can not afford insurance will find the electric bike more economical due to the lack of the insurance requirement.

You will probably enjoy http://mgahouse.maryland.gov/house/play/83e1e401-c78e-4379-ac19-d9382acd5c95/?catalog/03e481c7-8a42-4438-a7da-93ff74bdaa4c">the house hearing on HB149. Just forward to about minute 40. But apparently there was a lot of written testimony. Your Delegate should be willing to provide that written testimony if you ask nicely.

The story for bicycles is different

by JimT on Mar 15, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

I meant to call the link the house hearing on HB149 .

by JimT on Mar 15, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

JimT - This is the law since 2012 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bicycle_laws#Maryland
Earlier than this, years ago there was a grisly incident of a child borrowing their older brother's cheapo moped in traffic (RIP) - the Council's response was to ban everything use of everything with a motor locally, though the enforcement was small. People even tried to convince the Council to put in an motor-assisted electric bike exemption, since those are basically just bikes, but that failed.
The law as is now has absurdities.
Having a driver's license doesn't make someone a safer assisted bike rider, and means someone is steered or required to use and possess said vehicles. They aren't riding cars, they're riding bikes, not motorcycles. People who want folks using their cars less should be against said requirement.
I'm not sure there's businesses giving low reasonable insurance rates to meet the new laws, either. People on motor-assisted bikes or trikes aren't likely to cause damage to cars, more likely harm themselves or be harmed by them, just like with regular bikes. Nobody wants grisly accidents of any kind, but other bike/trike riders don't pay additional insurance for what insurers (no doubt) consider their risk-taking (nor should they). Skiers don't have to pay first to go skiing, either - taking risks to what is generally oneself is thankfully not typically meaning going to the DMV to register first.

by asffa on Mar 16, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

Also nobody else may bring up this point, but insurance notoriously doesn't pay on those who get bike injuries or death, no matter how obvious the fault is not the rider's.
IMHO requiring bike riders have insurance punishes them to be paying perhaps hundreds more, plus means they go through additional disappointment should they come into injury.

by asffa on Mar 16, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

@asffa: I remain confused by why you say: "here you're allowed to ride them back and forth in your own driveway, but that's it." I originally assumed perhaps you moved to one of the few jurisdictions that does not an electric bike, but now you referring to a Wikipedia article, which correctly states that electric bikes are treated as mopeds, which are allowed on roadways but not trails and sidewalks.

Regarding insurance: The purpose is mainly to protect pedestrians. At ski resorts, everybody assumes the risk which is prominently posted everywhere, with warnings about losing your ticket if you go outside of the nprms (which rarely happens, which exposes ski reports to a lawsuit). Pedestrians on a public thoroughfare are not required to assume the risk of being struck by a moped, nor can they win a judgement against the highway department for failure to police errant moped drivers.

I can believe that the insurance for mopeds is probably over-priced. If indeed the state is the main seller of that insurance and the price is too high, that probably would be a good thing to correct legislatively.

by JimT on Mar 16, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

JimT The MontCo Council was involved in the previous ban on motor assisted bikes and mopeds in some neighborhoods, other than use in driveways (said neighborhoods also almost only have small driveways). Google probably failed me because the more recent rules on said bikes likely replace the old notices.
People can get run over by any sort of careless bike - why should those using motor assisted bikes be treated differently and be required to spend what's likely hundreds more or have a driver's license? (What does owning a driver's license do to make them better bike riders?)

by asffa on Mar 16, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

OK so are we now agreed that whatever the law used to be, electric bikes and mopeds basically have the same rights as motor scooters?

I was not involved with House Bill 149, but it was pretty well vetted and if you haven't watched the hearing yet you probably should to get a feel for what their thinking was. From all the testimony, it is at least pretty clear that they were thinking, rather than just passing something without knowing why. Of course, they probably did not think of everything, but one should start with the reasons that underlay the law we have.

I assume you realize that the risk that one poses to others on the street increases gradually with speed and mass. Most would agree that pedestrians need not have insurance and that the drivers and trucks should. But from bicycle to motorcycle, one can make reasonable arguments either way.

Realizing that many people do not carry homeowners insurance, but for those that do, bikes are covered and mopeds are not. So the two justifications for requiring moped drivers to get it are that they can strike a pedestrian with greater force on average than a bike, and they are less likely to have it without the requirement. I am more concerned by rates being disproportionately high compared to the risk. That said, there should be some effort to ensure that the costs are commensurate with the risk, given that a government program is the main insurer.

by JimT on Mar 16, 2014 10:34 pm • linkreport

JimT Big things hurt smaller things, yes, bikes can be dangers to pedestrians because they go faster, but I think people ought to be able to use bikes, including motor assisted bikes which aren't mopeds.
You say the laws were well vetted (which assumes not making stupid and unnecessarily burdensome laws). But what does having a driver's license as required by the 2012 law have to do with riding a bike? Oh yeah - nothing. Oh.

by asffa on Mar 17, 2014 2:37 am • linkreport

JimT I assume you'd assume adding the same requirements to riders of non-powered bikes would be burdensome and discourage people from biking. That - would be correct.
How can you be against people a little less strong and healthy being able to bike, too using motor-assisted bikes? It's a kind of snobbery to my eyes.
Saying motor assisted or ebikes are all the same as mopeds is like looking at a tablet and saying that's a calculator - because they both use a battery.

by asffa on Mar 17, 2014 3:02 am • linkreport

@asffa: Sorry for the delay. I'm not sure whether your first comment was asking a question or not, but as far as I know, mopeds needed a drivers license before 2012. Do you know otherwise? Again, check out that hearing and compare it with the hearing for HB205 to see what I mean about the former being far more vetted than the latter.

Regarding your second comment: Of course you realize that these bikes are already legal, so certainly I am not suggesting that they be made unavailable. And if you read closely what I have said, my concern is that a sweeping change was made without recognition of which changes are desirable and which are not. Do you really think it is important for children to be allowed to drive 1-horsepower bikes on the street?

By the way, I think there is a plausible argument that ADA might allow disabled folks to ride the 250-watt bikes regardless of what state law says. Not sure that argument is a winner, but probably worth investigating.

Leaving aside that I have been using the definition that appears in both the dictionary and the Maryland code, perhaps you would like to explain why you do not believe that the E+ with cruise control should not be viewed as an electric moped. What about the Long Beach Electric Bikes 750-watt bike, whose manufacturers say:

In fact, most off-the-shelf E-bikes come with 250 or 300 watt motors. Those bikes are imported from China and were designed for the European and Asian markets where speed and power regulations are more constraining than in the USA. They won’t get you up even the smallest hill or buck a strong headwind. Also, many still use the old technology of brushed motors. At Long Beach Electric Bikes we custom build for the USA market using high-powered 750 watt brushless motors and 36 volt 12Ah batteries. The USA legal speed limit for electric bikes is 20 mile per hour. Caution: On our bikes you can easily exceed 20 miles per hour so watch out for the “black-and-whites.”

by JimT on Mar 19, 2014 7:24 pm • linkreport

Why not distinguish electric/electrically assisted bicycles from mopeds/other vehicles by imposing a WEIGHT limit, say 90 pounds, ready to ride, equipped with a pedal driven, and electrically assisted powertrain, and requiring use of wheels having rims of 22 to 28 inches diameter, with tires of 2.25 inches width or less, with a bicycle type, single post mounted, solo seat, without footpegs or passenger accomodations? Most scooters and mopeds are HEAVIER vehicles, often with frame mounted seating, smaller rims, wider tires, and foot pegs. As MARYLAND resident, and a disabled, senior citizen Army veteran, I find my electrically assisted 750 watt bicycle enables me to once again enjoy bicycling, although, even NOW, At my 67 year old age, I can, on a good day, reach a HIGHER speed on my old 10 speed than the 20 mph powered limit of the assisted bike! Having a WEIGHT limit tends to reduce the injury that might occur to others in event of collision, and also has an indirect effect on size of the vehicle, encouraging more efficient, environmentally benign, and user friendly vehicles, that are a better blend with true human-powered bicycles!

by Robert Curry on Mar 20, 2014 7:49 pm • linkreport

@Robert Curry: I think the short answer to your question is that because force is proportional to mass times the square of the velocity (and the rider is a large fraction of the total weight) cutting the speed is far more important than cutting the weight.

Take a 100 pound electric moped capable of traveling 15 mph and ridden by a 200 pound man. You would have to reduce the weight to 20 pounds to compensate for the speed increasing to 17.5 pounds. And if it goes 20mph, you would have to take 50 pounds off the rider as well (total weight of 170 pounds) to have the same force as the 300 pound (driver plus bike) assembly traveling at 15mph.

The 750 watt cycles are already allowed on the road. Can you elaborate on the need for that level of power (as opposed to 250 watts) on a trail? The 250 watts is already more power than any normal person can sustain for long.

There are other reasons to focus on speed: A large relative speed differential makes crashes more likely with bikes being overtaken, especially going up hill.

by JimT on Mar 20, 2014 9:22 pm • linkreport

To "Jim T".....I base my statements upon years of bicycling and running, using 100% HUMAN power, and recent usage of my WAVECREST 750 watt Hybrid Human-Electric 21speed mountain bike! As a runner, using human FEET and MUSCLES for propulsion, i found sustained speeds of 15 miles per hour were possible for distances of 1/4 mile ( 1 minute around a 440 yard high school running track)-the word record for 1mile, or FOUR such laps, is less than 4 minutes, or OVER 15 miles per hour! For short distances, such as 1/8 mile, or a little more than a city block, a good runner can average 20 miles an hour, on foot! (World record runners average over 20 mph for 1/4 mile on foot!) As far a bicycling goes, I have PERSONALLY ridden my 10 speed bicycle for over a mile at speeds of 25 mph or greater, on level ground, in rock creek park, of Washington, D.C. I have ALSO been pulled over, by the D.C. Metropolitan police, for exceeding 40 mph while pedaling downhill on Georgia Avenue N.W. South of military road, on the same, human-powered bicycle! A bicycle such as my electrically assisted Wavecrest, is actually slower under electric propulsion, and its 750 watt rating may cause confusion, as that is its maximum power, not the power normally used or delivered. The supplied battery has at best, only 360 watt-hours of energy available, as it is 36 volts at 10 ampere-hours. This size battery, if supplying a 100% efficient, 1horsepower, 746 watt motor, would operate it for LESS than 28 minutes, or only about 8.66 miles before the battery would die! Realistic operating range and distance greatly exceeds this by a factor of at least two to one, so the practical, useful average power is considerably LESS, but just as a HUMAN can for short uphill climbs, or starting from stops, exert considerably greater power than they might AVERAGE on a 20 mile ride, a 750 watt motor allows a closer match to HUMAN performance. I would, however be in favor of INCREASING allowable assisted speed to at least 25 miles per hour, as EVEN NOW, with my damaged knees, on a good day, i can STILL, at age 67, reach or EXCEED, on level streets, the 25 mile per hour speed on my old, 1971, pedal-powered 10 speed bicycle! Any bicycle rider, in 1/2 way decent shape, on a reasonably good bicycle, should be able to reach speeds of 30 mph by human power alone, for short distances! If you are LOCAL, I am willing to MEET with you for demonstrations and further enlightenment. (I live in Adelphi, Maryland, near university of Maryland. (I still have BOTH bicycles)

by Robert Curry on Mar 20, 2014 11:42 pm • linkreport

I think there's some misunderstanding of the federal law that defined electric bikes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission defined electric bikes as bicycles allowing them to be sold and protected as consumer products. Federal law clarified that electric bikes meeting the specification should be regulated as bicycles, not motor vehicles. This clearly differentiates low speed electric bikes from mopeds and instructs states to minimize motor vehicle regulation of these ebikes.

My reading of the Maryland statute looks like it simply brings MD law in compliance with federal law, like many other states that have taken the time to study the issue have done.

New York is a glaring exception, which is rather remarkable given the large number of electric bikes that are used for delivery and commuting in Manhattan. In NY, such bikes could only be used on roads if they are registered, but they can't be registered because they don't have the motor vehicle equipment common to mopeds. I literally couldn't walk a block without seeing several electric bikes either parked or driving when I visited there. Also tons of regular bikes, driving on the streets at night, with no lights. All logic suggests it is time for NY to get its act together and draft reasonable law about both regular and electric bikes.

by Charlie on Jun 10, 2014 2:08 am • linkreport

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