Ebikes: Legal and Insurance Issues

By: Attorney Ron Gluck

Ebikes, also known as EAPCs- electronically assisted pedal cycles, have become very popular over the past 10 years. The Industry is exploding with new models and new users.  In Massachusetts bikes fall into the Ebike category if they are motorized but the motors have a maximum speed of twenty- five mile per hour. Massachusetts restricts use of these bikes to people who are sixteen or above.

Operators of Ebikes must have an operator’s license and an Ebike may require registration depending on its  maximum speed. All riders must be helmeted.  Insurance is not required. Ebikes may not be ridden on bike paths in Massachusetts. For certain insurance purposes, Ebikes are treated differently than ordinary bicycles. As an example, whereas riders of bicycles who are hit by a car or truck are entitled to personal injury protection benefits which cover medical bills and lost earnings.

Ebike riders are not entitled to these benefits. Similarly, medical payment provisions on motor vehicle policies which will provide benefits to cyclists who are hit by a car, are not payable to Ebike riders who suffer injuries when hit by a motor vehicle. This disparate treatment of Ebike riders has made its way into automobile insurance policies in the last few years.  The refusal of the insurance companies in Massachusetts to treat Ebike riders the same way they treat cyclists can create financial difficulties for the Ebike riders if they suffer injuries when hit by a motor vehicle. And the likelihood is that most Ebike riders have no idea that insurance coverage which applied to them as cyclists is not available to them as Ebike riders.

The change in the policy language is buried in the insurance policy that is mailed to Massachusetts insureds annually. Insured’s are always advised to read their policies but most people do not do so. There is legislation making its way through the legislature in  Massachusetts that would create three classifications of Ebikes depending upon the speed of the motorized bike. House bill 3457 and Senate bill 2309 seem to have momentum. If the bills pass, distinctions would be created so that the insurance benefits which currently do not apply to Ecyclists could include riders of slower Ebikes in the future.

The good news regarding insurance coverage for Ebikers is that their homeowners insurance policies currently continue to protect them from liability should they cause an accident. The same applies to umbrella policies which insure homeowners for excess liability beyond the limits of their homeowner’s policies. That said, Ebikers are advised to watch for any changes that could take place in the terms of their policies as it relates to Ebikes. One could certainly imagine the insurance industry creating a separate category of insurance policy, similar to insurance policies for scooters and or motorcycles. Currently, scooters that travel as slowly as 35 mph require a motorcycle license, registration and insurance coverage.

Readers of this column may remember that I emphasize the importance of carrying high underinsured motorist limits on your automobile insurance policies. This is to protect you in the event that you and or your family members are hit and injured due to the negligence of an operator of a motor vehicle while you are on a bicycle, are a pedestrian, or when you are in a vehicle. Underinsured coverage on your motor vehicles does provide coverage if you and or family members are injured while riding an Ebike.

While this is good news, it demonstrates the inconsistency that exists within insurance policies with respect to your Ebikes. It is confusing that, as mentioned above, Ebikers do not receive coverage for medical payments or lost wages from their own automobile insurance companies or the insurance company of the vehicle that hit them yet their own automobile insurance company will provide benefits for underinsured coverage.

It is highly likely that the use of Ebikes will increase in the future. They are fun, good for the environment and easy to operate.  While they can be expensive to purchase, they are inexpensive to own and ride. They are a convenient and efficient mode of transportation for commuters and delivery people. Since the use of these bikes will become more and more prevalent on the roadways of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it will be critical for the insurance issues related to the ownership and operation of them to be clarified.  Ebikers need to be clearly informed and advised on the insurance issues so that they can protect themselves from financial hardship in the event that they are injured while riding, whether for recreation, commuting or while making deliveries.

Stay safe and healthy!

Contact Ron Gluck in Boston today

If you have questions about a particular incident or more generally about the subject matter of this column, feel free to contact Ron Gluck at gluck@bwglaw.com. Ron is a founder and principal at Breakstone White and Gluck in Boston. Throughout his 35 year legal career Ron has represented seriously injured individuals in a variety of cases including cycling accidents involving catastrophic injury and wrongful death.

Ron is a member of the Charles River Wheelers (CRW) and wrote this article for the club's newsletter, WheelPeople, May 2022.