July 12, 2021
By: Charles R. Mathis, Attorney, ([email protected])
The first patents for electric bicycles were granted way back in the 1890’s. Until somewhat recently, electric bicycles or e-bikes failed to reach the mainstream due to their cost, short battery life and appearance. Sales of e-bikes prior to, and especially following the pandemic, however, have skyrocketed as they have become more affordable, more attractive, and more functional with longer lasting batteries. Now that more and more e-bikes are on the road, the question more states find themselves grappling with is: Are these bicycles? Motorcycles? Mopeds? Something else? New Jersey recently enacted a law which answers this very question, and the related question of whether an individual who is injured while riding an e-bike is entitled to the payment of their medical bills.
In New Jersey, if you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of fault, payment for medical bills related to the accident is generally paid by your automobile insurance carrier under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits of a policy. This applies not only to individuals operating motor vehicles, but to pedestrians who are injured in motor vehicle accidents. New Jersey had also extended this principle to bicyclists, and requires automobile insurance carriers to provide those individuals with PIP coverage.
Ultimately, the type of “vehicle” you are operating determines whether you have PIP coverage. For example, “(a) motorcycle does not fall within the definition of an automobile under the New Jersey Act.” (Muto v. Kemper Reinsurance Co., 189 N.J.Super.417,422 (App. Div. 1983)) Prior to May of 2019, the status of whether or not e-bikes would be afforded PIP coverage was unclear. E-bikes did not fit into any of the existing statutory definitions.
This left e-bikes in limbo. As a result, Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature modified N.J.S.A. §39:1, to include a definition for “low-speed electric bicycles,” as a two wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electronic motor up to 750 watts.
At the time the legislation was signed, Governor Murphy issued a press release which provided:
The bill calls for motorized scooters and e-bikes capable of traveling 20 miles per hour or slower to be regulated much the same as ordinary bicycles, allowing their operation on streets, highways, and bicycle paths in this State. An operator of a low speed electric bicycle or motorized scooter is not required to register the scooter or e-bike, furnish proof of insurance or have a driver’s license. The bill further provides that all statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to ordinary bicycles will apply to low-speed electric bicycles and motorized scooters.
The law unambiguously treats individuals operating e-bikes, with operable pedals and electric motors up to 750 watts, the same as other bicyclists in New Jersey. Therefore, an individual injured while operating an e-bike as a result of a motor vehicle accident is entitled to PIP benefits.
As this is a new and emerging area of law, each state will define the status of e-bikes and their riders. If you have been injured in an accident involving an e-bike, motor scooter, motorcycle, or motor vehicle and have questions concerning your rights, please call Maggs McDermott & DiCicco at 732-223-9870. For more information on Personal Injury Law, click here.