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New York legalizes e-bikes and e-scooters

New York legalized the use of “e-bikes” and “e-scooters” as part of the newly passed state budget. The vehicles, termed “bicycles with electric assist” and “electric scooters” under the amendments to the Vehicle and Traffic Law, may now be “be operated on public highways with a posted speed limit of thirty miles per hour or less, including non–interstate public highways, private roads open to motor vehicle traffic, and designated bicycle or in-line skate lanes.” These specific provisions are found in an amended Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1231 (for e-bikes) and a newly added section 1281 (for e-scooters). The vehicles are prohibited on sidewalks.

E-bikes and e-scooters have increased in popularity but opponents raise concerns about safety and whether the vehicles are appropriate for all areas and communities. Local governments should note that the law includes provisions allowing for local regulation of the vehicles. Sections 1231 and 1281 specifically allow counties, cities, towns, or villages to pass ordinances that “further regulate” e-bikes and e-scooters, on the following subjects: (1) maximum speed; (2) time, place and manner of operation; and (3) the use of helmets and reflective clothing. The use of the term “further regulate” suggests that the municipality may enact regulations which are more restrictive, but not more permissive, than the state rules.

The legislation also provides that local regulations may limit or prohibit entirely, the use of e-bikes and/or e-scooters in specified areas or within the entirety of the municipality. In the absence of regulation by local governments the default is that e-bikes and e-scooters are permitted, so municipalities seeking to further regulate or outright prohibit the vehicles would be wise to do so soon.

The full legislation is available in the budget’s Transportation, Economic Development, and Environmental Conservation bill, available online at https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy21/exec/artvii/ted-bill.pdf.

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