Rideshare bicycles and scooters have become increasingly ubiquitous in cities across the United States over the past few years. While many rideshare bicycles are conventional, others feature pedal-assist technology and are commonly referred to as “electric bicycles” or “e-bikes.” As for scooters, electric versions are offered to consumers by rapidly growing micromobility companies such as Lime and Bird. Given the increasing popularity and expansion of these rideshare vehicles across the country, we provide a brief overview of the regulatory landscape that ensures the safety of these products.

Bicycles

In 1972, the Congress established the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to regulate the safety of consumer products at the federal level. One of the first products to be regulated by the Commission was bicycles. In 1978, the CPSC promulgated its first rules regulating traditional human powered bicycles (16 CFR part 1512) with the goal of establishing requirements for their assembly, braking, and structural integrity. It was not until twenty-five years later, in 2003, that the Commission, pursuant to an act of Congress, updated the federal safety standard for bicycles to include low-speed electric bicycles. Thus, electric bicycles, including most of those used for ridesharing purposes, are regulated by the CPSC and must comply with the mandatory federal safety standard for bicycles at 16 CFR part 1512.

The current CPSC definition of bicycle is “(1) a two-wheeled vehicle having a rear drive wheel that is solely human-powered or (2) a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph (i.e., a low-speed electric bicycle).” This definition is significant because it allows electric bicycles to travel faster than 20 mph when that bicycle is powered by both a motor and human (through pedals).

As for the specific requirements that bicycles must meet, the federal safety standard sets forth detailed mechanical requirements along with those for a bicycle’s many component parts and systems including steering, brakes, pedals, drive chain, protective guards, tires, wheels (and hubs), front fork, frame assembly, seats, and even reflectors. The standard also addresses operation and safety instructions to be provided to consumers and requisite labelling that provides consumers with certain identifying information and manufactures and private labelers with traceability information. If a bicycle, conventional or electric, fails any of these requirements, it is a banned product under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA).

It is also worth mentioning that electric bicycles are frequently regulated at the state level. Over half of the states have promulgated some form of safety related regulation regarding the operation, registration, and/or licensing of electric bicycles. State laws and regulations for electric bicycles (and scooters) will be explored further in a future post.

Scooters

Like rideshare bicycles, electric scooters have taken the streets of American cities by storm. However, unlike bicycles, electric scooters are unregulated consumer products. In other words, while scooters can still be defective and create a substantial product hazard to consumers under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), and therefore be subject to a corrective action, there is no mandatory federal safety standard that addresses scooters specifically. Electric scooters, at least those that are incapable of a top speed of 20 mph, are also not considered “motor vehicles” that must be manufactured to comply with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Rather, a patchwork of voluntary safety standards, as well as state and local laws and regulations, seek to ensure the safety of these products. The most prominent voluntary safety standard for electric scooters is ANSI/CAN/UL 2272 – Standard for Electrical Systems for Personal E-Mobility Devices. This standard, initially designed and intended for hoverboards (also referred to as “self-balancing” electric scooters), tests and evaluates the electrical drive train system, battery system, and charger system of electric scooters – in other words, the standard seeks to address electrical and fire safety given the presence of lithium ion batteries. The standard, however, does not address all operational or mechanical safety aspects of riding an electric scooter.

At the end of last year, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) announced that its Consumer Products Subcommittee on Powered Scooters and Skateboards (F15.58) would bring stakeholders together to discuss and develop a proposed standard on electric-powered scooters that would establish performance requirements and corresponding test methods to minimize common potential hazards associated with electric scooters. CPSC staff, and at least one Commissioner at the agency, has participated in or observed teleconferences held by this subcommittee related to this standard’s development. Time will tell whether such a consensus standard comes to fruition.

Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blog posts on the legal landscape for micromobility products (electric bicycles and scooters, and hoverboards) in anticipation of the Commission’s September 15 Micromobility Product Forum on the more technical aspects of micromobility products.