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Could new EU law pave way for mandatory bike insurance?

Peter Stuart
21 Dec 2016

A new directive from the EU suggests that a much wider array of vehicles, including e-bikes, may need insurance

A ruling from the European Court of Justice has given way to a directive that suggests that all vehicles of all types will need some form of insurance – including Segways, golf buggies, ride-on lawnmowers and ‘electrically assisted pedal cycles’. Such a significant change in law would have significant ramifications for the emerging e-bike sector and could potentially affect law surrounding bicycle insurance.

The change is a result of an interpretation of the Motor Insurance Directive, the EU’s rules on what does and doesn’t need insurance, in a court case involving Damijan Vnuk, who was hurt having fallen off a ladder as a result of a reversing tractor. The courts deemed that the tractor should have had insurance, interpreting the Motor Insurance Directive in a way never before considered.

In light of this ruling, the EU commission is considering reviewing the directive altogether, according to a government document from the Department of Transport released several days ago.

The document suggests that implication of the ruling is that all vehicles should have motor insurance, including bumper cars, mobility scooters and golf buggies whether on private land or on public roads.

While the ruling may seem irrelevant to the masses of normal non-electrical bicycles, the implication in the government document that, ‘Some of the vehicles which could be brought within scope of the Motor Insurance Directive by virtue of the Vnuk judgment are electrically assisted pedal cycles’ is particularly pertinent. E-bikes are currently limited to an assisted speed of 25kmh, making them generally no faster than an eager road cyclist. We would speculate that demanding insurance for one and not the other may generate debate over whether a bicycle qualifies as a vehicle in the traditional sense.

The Vnuk judgement, at the very least, may be a serious hit for cycling industry, which has benefitted a great deal from the huge growth in e-bikes across europe, including numerous big road bike brands such as Giant and Cannondale. These strong sales would no doubt be hit by a new mandatory insurance for all vehicles.

The document makes no reference to normal bicycles, however should motor insurance extend to all vehicles both on and off the road regardless of the observed public liability risk, pressure will likely mount considerably for a similar level of insurance for bicycles. As most cyclists will know, it doesn’t take much to stoke up anti-cycling sentiments from those who feel cyclists have a comparatively favourable treatment in terms of VED (Vehicle Excise Duty, often called ‘road tax’) and insurance costs.

The consultation is still in progress, and the DfT has made clear that it does not want to introduce unnecessary and unreasonable burdens to the public as a result of the directive. While the Brexit process may alter how this is applied to UK law, any changes from EU directives will at the moment also be legally binding in the UK as well.


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