19 oct 23

European Court ruling makes e-bikes more attractive

Electric bicycles are not motor vehicles. That conclusion, reached by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, means e-bikes don’t need insurance. That makes them financially more attractive – to private and corporate mobility users alike.

This legal clarity comes at the cost of human tragedy. The case originated in Belgium, where an e-bike user was hit by a car and later passed away. Insurance companies argued about who was responsible for the damage, eventually all the way to the ECJ.

One in four

E-bikes are increasingly popular, both for private use, or as a component of corporate mobility. Sales across Europe have risen from barely half a million in 2009 to 5.5 million in 2021, with one on four bikes sold now being electric. As demand for e-bikes increases at an annual rate of about 10% and replaces demand for non-electrics, observers expect e-bike sales to overtake non-electric bike sales in just a few years. 

However, that popularity has done little to resolve the legal grey area this new type of bicycle has found itself in. Is it a motor vehicle or not? The answer to that question comes with different sets of implications – legal, fiscal, and otherwise. And it has been answered differently across Europe’s many jurisdictions. 

Human pedaling

The verdict of the ECJ, the highest court in the EU, now answers the question once and for all. In its judgment, an e-bike (defined by the ECJ as “vehicles with two wheels propelled by pedals, or by an electric motor, the power of which does not exceed 250 watts and whose maximum speed does not exceed 25 km/h”) still relies mainly on human pedaling to move forward, and thus can’t be considered a motor vehicle.

For the original Belgian case, this means that the e-bike user is automatically entitled to damages, to be paid by the car driver’s insurance. But the implications of this legal precedent go much wider. 

Boost the boom

As e-bikes are now unambiguously classified as non-motorised vehicles, this means e-bike users in the EU are not obliged to take out vehicle insurance – the reasoning being that non-motorised vehicles are less likely to cause serious damage or harm than motorized ones.

This will further boost Europe’s already booming e-bike industry, as the removal of the insurance obligation reduces both the cost and administrative burden for this mobility option. The legal clarity will also further incentivize legislators to promote the use of this mode of transport, which is not only sustainable – helping to reduce both congestion and emissions –  but also comes with health benefits. 

Image: Shutterstock 1329333200

Authored by: Frank Jacobs