Lack of an Executive puts brake on change to e-bikes law, say officials
Stormont officials have said the lack of a working political system in Northern Ireland means outdated laws around the use of e-bikes will not be changed.
A law dating back to 1955 states that electric bikes are considered as mopeds and therefore riders require licences, insurance, must wear the correct safety gear like a motorbike helmet and even display a number plate on their vehicle. Some even have to undergo government-approved basic training and display L-plates while learning.
In 1995 England, Scotland and Wales all amended the law to take account of changes in technology which saw engines shrink and electric assisted cycles grow in popularity. But it never changed in Northern Ireland.
A proposed change in the legislation, begun by the SDLP's Mark H Durkan, has gone through the necessary gears to allow the bikes to be treated in law as the same as the solely pedal-powered counterparts, but is just missing the necessary sign-off from a minister and the Assembly's approval - which is unlikely to happen for some time.
The confusion - which only came to light when BBC presenter Stephen Nolan tried to buy one - has meant that sales of the bicycles have been suspended by retailer Halfords. The Department of Infrastructure, which is responsible for the issue, could not even say if the bikes needed an MOT, with officials seeking clarity on the matter.
The Green Party has started a petition calling on the PSNI not to "criminalise electric bikes" and for officers to essentially turn a blind eye until the change in law can be made.
Leader Steven Agnew said: "It's a problem that needs to be resolved by the Assembly ultimately, but the police can work on the spirit of the law, beyond the letter of the law and I'll be writing to the chief constable to make that point and not to prosecute people."
UUP MLA John Stewart called for "common sense" on the matter.
"It is totally unacceptable that cyclists in Northern Ireland who have bought electric bikes in good faith, should be punished for something that is totally outwith their control," he said.
"It is nothing short of ludicrous to suggest that cyclists who have purchased electric bikes should be threatened with a fine of up to £1,000 and six penalty points for riding an electric bicycle without a proper licence."
However, the UUP ran the department that could have made the changes from 1999 to 2002.
The Department of Infrastructure has said those selling the bikes must tell customers of the requirements for riding them and that they may have to pay tax and insurance before hitting the road. It said a minister was required to drop the red-tape.
"Anyone using an Electrical Assisted Pedal Bicycles (EAPCs) on a public road in NI regardless of the date of purchase must comply with the licensing and other legal requirements," a spokesman said.
"In 2016, the then Department of the Environment commenced the legislative process to align Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK and remove EAPCs from the licensing requirement.
"Although consultation has been completed and the regulations drafting process is well under way, the process cannot be completed without the approval of a Minister and, under devolution, the NI Assembly."