close-up of electric bicycleElectric bicycles, commonly called e-bikes or booster bikes, are quickly gaining popularity in Tennessee. In fact, Tennessee is one of the few states that has created specific regulations for the operation of electric bicycles, helping riders to understand the limitations and risks of each type of power-assisted bike. However, state statutes also allow bike crash victims to be held partially liable in a crash, so it is important to understand the regulations surrounding these bikes before you ride.

The Different Classifications of Electric Bicycles in Tennessee

Under state law, an electric bicycle is a two- or three-wheeled vehicle that is equipped with pedals and an electric motor for human propulsion. The bicycle must have a motor of less than 750 watts and its wheels must be 20 inches or more in diameter. As of January 1, 2017, all new electric bicycles must come with a prominent label with the motor wattage, top assisted speed, and classification number of the electric bicycle.

E-bikes may fall under one of three classifications, including:

  • Class 1. These bicycles are only assisted by a motor when the rider is pedaling, and the motor-assist ceases when the bike reaches the speed of 20 mph.
  • Class 2. These bicycles may be propelled using the motor only, but motor-assist ceases when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph.
  • Class 3. These bicycles are only assisted by a motor when the rider is pedaling, and that motor-assist ceases when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 mph.

How E-Bike Crash Cases Differ From Standard Bike Accidents

Just as with manual bicycles, riders do not need a license, title, or registration to operate an electric bicycle in Tennessee. However, the ability to ride at much higher speeds can increase the risks of an accident, especially if the rider is unaware of the proper riding techniques. A bicyclist who shares responsibility for a crash may suffer reduced damages—or receive no compensation at all—under the state’s modified comparative negligence laws, so it is vital that he or she rides within the bounds of the law.

Factors that can complicate an e-bike accident case include:

  • Potential insurance problems. While riders of standard bicycles can receive compensation from their own uninsured motorist coverage after a collision with a car, the regulations for e-bike riders are less clear. Riders may wish to purchase e-bike insurance to pay for their own injuries, the injuries of someone they strike, and the cost of repairing the bicycle after a crash.
  • Equipment requirements. All electric bicycles may only be considered road-legal if their electric motors are disengaged by a manual switch or turn off automatically when the brakes are applied. All class 3 electric bicycles cannot be ridden on a street or highway unless outfitted with a functional speedometer. In addition, operators and passengers of class 3 electric bicycles are required by law to wear federally-approved and properly fitted bicycle helmets, regardless of age.
  • Path and road usage. Electric bicycles are generally granted the same access to roadways and streets as standard bicycles (including the restriction of riding electric bicycles on sidewalks). However, only class 1 and 2 electric bicycles may be ridden on bicycle paths or trails. Class 3 electric bicycles cannot be ridden on bike paths or trails unless specifically granted permission by a local ordinance.
  • Modifications. If a person knowingly modifies an electric bicycle to change the speed capabilities, he or she can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

At GriffithLaw, we want to make it as easy as possible for injury victims to get answers to their questions. That is why we provide no-cost injury consultations and take cases on a contingency-fee basis, so our legal fees are paid with a portion of the settlement we secure for you. To learn more about your rights, simply fill out the short contact form on this page or request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.

John Griffith
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Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney