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Electric bicycles presenting a dilemma for NYC officials

New York's restaurant industry is currently enjoying the use of electric bicycles. Food delivery people can hop on the bike, which has a top speed of 20 mph, and arrive at their destination with the food freshly cooked and still piping hot. The only problem is that such a feat may result in the electric bike rider being cited for a traffic violation.

Electric bikes are "100 percent illegal to ride" in New York City. However, the laws are confusing and some police officers themselves aren't even aware that they are illegal.

How many violations occur and how many traffic citations are given is unknown because no office keeps records. Not the DMV. Not the NYPD. Not even the Department of Consumer Affairs.

What is known is that the electric bicycle is not a motorized vehicle under federal law, which classifies it as a consumer good. As a consumer good, it is legally sold. However, because it is a consumer good, it cannot be registered with the DMV where only motorized vehicles can be registered.

If you're not confused yet, consider the following: Motorized scooters with a top speed of 15 mph are legal, yet electric bikes with a top speed of only 20 mph are illegal.

According to New York Councilman Dan Garodnick, electric bikes are illegal precisely because their weight, speed and relative silence present a real danger to unsuspecting pedestrians.

"They are neither bicycle nor motorcycle, and as a result, they are more deceptive," he said. "They are more dangerous, because they are heavier and faster than normal bikes."

It should be interesting to see how city officials address this issue over the next few months.

Stay tuned for updates on this evolving situation from our New York vehicle traffic law blog ...

If you have been issued a traffic violation, fight to keep your driving privileges and your insurance premiums as low as possible. Consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


The New York Observer, "Hell on wheels: Environmentally friendly electric bikes pose city menace ... or do they?" Drew Grant, Aug. 8, 2012

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