No Northern Ireland Assembly means no change to 1955 e-bike law: Stormont officials
Stormont officials have said the lack of a working political system in Northern Ireland means out-dated laws around the use of e-bikes will not be changed.
A law dating back to 1955 states that the electric bikes are considered as mopeds and therefore their riders require licences, insurance, must wear the correct safety gear like leathers and a motorbike helmet and even display a number plate from 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 rise in popularity. But it has never been 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 sign-off from a minister and the Assembly's approval - which will likely not happen for some time as talks drag on.
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 for riding these bikes."
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.
"We are supposed to be trying to encourage the public to become more environmentally friendly. As part of that strategy we are meant to be encouraging people to leave their cars behind and take up cycling, so 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 in Northern Ireland without a proper licence."
The Department of Infrastructure has said those shops selling the bikes must tell customers of the requirements for riding them and they may have to pay tax and insurance for them before hitting the road.
"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.
"To use an EAPC on public roads, the vehicle had to be licensed and insured and the rider had to hold a valid provisional or full Driving Licence (category AM Mopeds). Northern Ireland is now the only region in the UK that requires an EAPC to be licensed and insured and for the rider to wear a safety helmet.
"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.
"The Department further advised subject to the approval of a devolved Minister and a restored NI Assembly it proposes implementing legislation to exempt EAPCs from registration and licensing in NI."
Belfast Telegraph Digital