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Yes, Minister! Jesse Norman confirms government has no plans for cyclists to be registered and insured

Question raised does perhaps highlight widespread public misunderstanding of rules regarding electric bikes

Jesse Norman, whose responsibilities include as Minister of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) include active travel, has confirmed that the government has no plans for cyclists to be subject to compulsory registration. The specific question to which he was replying, however, does perhaps reflect widespread public misunderstanding on what constitutes an electric bicycle.

Norman confirmed the government’s stance on the subject in a reply to a written question from Jim Shannon, Member of Parliament for Strangford and the DUP’s shadow spokesman for human rights.

Shannon had asked whether the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, had “made a recent assessment of the potential merits of requiring electric bike users to (a) have a number plate and (b) be insured.”

In his reply, Norman, who is in his second stint at the DfT – he was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State there in 2017-18, and took up his current appointment 12 months ago – said: “The Department considered issues including a mandatory registration and insurance system for cyclists as part of a cycling and walking safety review in 2018.

“The review concluded that restricting people’s ability to cycle in this way would mean that many would choose other modes of transport instead, with negative impacts for congestion, pollution and health,” he added.

Calls for cyclists to be licensed and insured are regularly made by people who perceive those riding bikes as a menace on the roads, and are equally regularly rebuffed by the government.

In December 2021, the government rejected calls by motoring lawyer Nick Freeman to display identification – his suggestion was hi-viz tabards bearing a registration number – after a petition he launched on the subject and plugged for several months in newspaper articles and on TV appearances gained 10,000 signatures.

> Government confirms it has “no plans” to make cyclists wear identification numbers as it rejects ‘Mr Loophole’ petition

Replying to the petition, as it was obliged to do once that threshold was passed, the government said that it “considers that the costs of a formal registration system for cycle ownership would outweigh the benefits.

“The safety case for such a system is not as strong as that for drivers since, by contrast with motorised vehicles, cycles involved in collisions on the highway are highly unlikely to cause serious injury to other road users.”

The rejection of the suggestion that cyclists should be registered, due to the hassle and cost of  running such a scheme, is based on real-life precedent, with jurisdictions around the world that have implemented such measures quickly scrapping them afterwards.

As for insurance, most adult cyclists will be covered for third party liability while riding a bike, whether through membership of organisations such as British Cycling and its affiliated clubs, or Cycling UK, or in most cases under their household contents cover.

The latter specifically exclude liability while using mechanically propelled vehicles such as private cars, where it is of course a legal requirement to have at minimum third party cover – something that does not prevent an estimated 1 million drivers from going uninsured –introduced in 1930 in response to the danger motorists posed to others, and gave rise to the motor insurance industry, valued at £19 billion in the UK.

By extension, the assumption by many that cyclists are not insured for their legal liability to others is based on the fact that drivers must take out specific insurance, while there is no such requirement for anyone riding a bike who, as explained above, will typically be covered elsewhere.

It is also worth noting that while Norman’s reply related to all cyclists, Shannon’s question specifically referenced “electric bike users,” an area in which there is widespread public misunderstanding of the law.

To legally qualify as an “electric bike” – or to give its legal definition, an “electrically assisted pedal cycle” (EAPC), it must meet certain requirements, as set out by the government here.

Anyone aged 14 or over can ride an electric bike, without needing a licence, registration or insurance, provided that it complies with those requirements including that I has pedals that can be used to propel it, has a maximum power output of 250 watts, and the motor cannot power the bike at speeds above 15.5mph.

“Any electric bike that does not meet the EAPC rules is classed as a motorcycle or moped and needs to be registered and taxed.” The government says, advising users that they must have a driving licence to ride one, and also wear a crash helmet.”

Those definitions are in line with regulations initially drawn up by the European Union, and despite Brexit, remain in force in the UK with no suggestion they will be amended any time soon, and it is worth noting that the European Court of Justice recently confirmed in a landmark ruling that e-bikes meeting those requirements “are bicycles, instead of motorbikes.”

> “E-bikes are bicycles, not motorbikes": EU Court rules e-bikes not capable of causing bodily or material damage comparable to motorcycles, cars or trucks

Now, your average person in the street, let alone Member of Parliament, is likely to be unaware of such distinctions, giving rise to confusion on the issue.

Partly driven by the growth of food delivery services in recent years, you don’t have to spend too long on a street in a UK town or city before you will see someone riding what to most people would look like a bicycle – distinct from a motorcycle in that there is no registration plate, and the rider may be wearing a cycle helmet, or be bareheaded – at unassisted speeds well above the 15.5mph stated above.

Aftermarket motors may well exceed the permitted 250 watts, and in some cases such bikes need no pedalling at all from the rider to achieve speeds of 30mph or more; quite rightly, such vehicles which as explained above fall under the definition of moped or motorcycle rather than electric bicycle need to be subject to tighter regulations, as well as being type approved – but it is understandable why most people, who are unfamiliar with the minutiae of the law on the subject, think of them as “bikes.”

Police forces across the country do periodically run enforcement campaigns on the issue – the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Safety Team did so just last month, resulting in a number of illegal vehicles being seized.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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20 comments

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Hirsute | 5 months ago
1 like
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chrisonabike replied to Hirsute | 5 months ago
1 like

What did the companies say? "safety was a top priority for them".

BBC wrote:

A spokesperson for Just Eat said it took appropriate action when made aware a courier delivering on their behalf did not uphold their standards.

An Uber Eats spokesperson said they expected their couriers to adhere to all applicable laws and regulations.

Deliveroo said riders complete a programme of road safety guidance and are offered equipment to ensure they are visible to all road users.

As you were!

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Secret_squirrel | 5 months ago
8 likes

"Now, your average person in the street, let alone Member of Parliament, is likely to be unaware of such distinctions, giving rise to confusion on the issue."

Its literally an MP's fesking job to understand the implications of existing legal frameworks, they are legislators first and foremost.

Of course because its the DUP he's more interested in performative nonsense rather than something that will actively help his constituents like taking part in the Good Friday institutions.

Total waste of space.

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dubwise | 5 months ago
4 likes

Never trust a politician.

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Shermo | 5 months ago
14 likes

If they wanted to clamp down on these illegal bikes just order something via Deliveroo or Uber eats. About 90% of them are use illegal eBikes with throttles, batteries gaffa taped on using 1000w motors etc.

At least in Sheffield they're a real menace doing 20+mph on pavement without pedalling, jumping red lights etc no wonder "cyclists" get a bad rep as we're tarred with the same brush as these numpties.

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brooksby replied to Shermo | 5 months ago
10 likes

Trust me: its not just in Sheffield.

Those things with the centre of the frame filled over with duct tape, they look like a major house fire just waiting to happen...

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP replied to Shermo | 5 months ago
8 likes

Last week I was servicing eBikes at an event in North London. An older gent, very respectable, very gammon, turned up with an eBike Frankenstein - exactly as you describe: huge battery strapped to the top tube, rim brakes - completely unsuitable for the weight or velocity of the bike, worn rims, thumb throttle, cabling and brake outer zip tied to the frame, two different size of tyres. It's not just Uber delivery - there is a lot of ignorance out there as to what constitutes a legal eBike. When I point this out to Uber cyclists they look at me with a blank stare.  They have no idea - because the company does not inform them, probably. I don't agree in confiscating a vital work tool from someone who is already economically hard up. Educate yes, even administer some sort of fine. 

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chrisonabike replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 5 months ago
3 likes
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

Last week I was servicing eBikes at an event in North London. An older gent, very respectable, very gammon, turned up with an eBike Frankenstein - exactly as you describe: huge battery strapped to the top tube, rim brakes [...]

Eeek!  I've learned here that these are always a death trap!

BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

[...] there is a lot of ignorance out there as to what constitutes a legal eBike. When I point this out to Uber cyclists they look at me with a blank stare.  They have no idea - because the company does not inform them, probably. I don't agree in confiscating a vital work tool from someone who is already economically hard up. Educate yes, even administer some sort of fine. 

I do think we should look at going after the companies.  It's difficult because the firms have currently succeeded in outsourcing the risk (and normal employee support) on society at large with their "contractor" model.  Hasn't that been challenged however in a few cases though (was it Uber?).

It's also fighting against what is (now...) a market.

However without employer regulation it's a bit like trying to tackling drug problems without addressing dealers.

Targetting riders initially looks much easier (they're generally very visible - unless you're a driver ho ho).  Given the pay and job requirements I think there must be quite strong push factor driving many to do this work.  Not certain we'd be able to easily police this one to a much lower level.

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mattw replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
8 likes

The regulation can be compulsorily outsourced to Uber Eats etc.

Make them legally responsible for the vehicles their contractors use, and fine heavily under Health and Safety law.

Then enforce.

This Govt won't, as they don't give a damn whether highway users live or die.

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bensynnock replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 5 months ago
4 likes

I do a little bit of deliveroo now and then on a normal road bike, and the companies do tell people that they need to make sure their vehicle is legal - but the problem is that people don't care. There's no enforcement by the police.

All of these companies are full of people who aren't legally allowed to work. Somebody will approach such a person, give them a bike, give them a phone, give them the logon details for an account, and tell them to go out and work. They will be paid a proportion off what they earn, which is far less than the minimum wage and also far less than what a regular rider will earn, but more than they'd earn otherwise.

The people are then stuck working on these bikes to pay off their debt. It's a form of modern day slavery.

Delivery people on motorcycles are legit, those on regular and legal bikes are legit, almost all of the others are not.

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chrisonabike replied to bensynnock | 5 months ago
3 likes
bensynnock wrote:

I do a little bit of deliveroo now and then on a normal road bike, and the companies do tell people that they need to make sure their vehicle is legal - but the problem is that people don't care. There's no enforcement by the police. All of these companies are full of people who aren't legally allowed to work. Somebody will approach such a person, give them a bike, give them a phone, give them the logon details for an account, and tell them to go out and work. They will be paid a proportion off what they earn, which is far less than the minimum wage and also far less than what a regular rider will earn, but more than they'd earn otherwise. The people are then stuck working on these bikes to pay off their debt. It's a form of modern day slavery. Delivery people on motorcycles are legit, those on regular and legal bikes are legit, almost all of the others are not.

Thanks for your knowledge.

I'd also heard things like this, and how e.g. some companies supplying ebikes make their money.  So a bunch of people sharing a room / accomodation will club together, rent a couple of electric bikes, then work them in shifts throughout the day.  Apparently some rental companies agreements also require the riders to pay for fixing them on top of pretty high rental fees.  That might seem sensible but the end result is bikes (legal or not) which are quickly trashed through heavy use and not maintained.  And they're ridden by people in the grey / black economy and thus not necessarily motivated to keep to the letter of the law.

Just another grubby corner of our society.

I'm sure the companies have lovely "modern day slavery" policies...  Despite their efforts to discount responsibility for people working for them I think it would be worthwhile to make the legal efforts to pin some of this to them.  Otherwise it seems that it will always be a losing battle trying to mitigate the negatives here.

(Obviously the problem of people being here but not able to legally work is a whole different kettle of sardines).

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OldRidgeback replied to bensynnock | 5 months ago
0 likes
bensynnock wrote:

I do a little bit of deliveroo now and then on a normal road bike, and the companies do tell people that they need to make sure their vehicle is legal - but the problem is that people don't care. There's no enforcement by the police. All of these companies are full of people who aren't legally allowed to work. Somebody will approach such a person, give them a bike, give them a phone, give them the logon details for an account, and tell them to go out and work. They will be paid a proportion off what they earn, which is far less than the minimum wage and also far less than what a regular rider will earn, but more than they'd earn otherwise. The people are then stuck working on these bikes to pay off their debt. It's a form of modern day slavery. Delivery people on motorcycles are legit, those on regular and legal bikes are legit, almost all of the others are not.

I question how many of those delivery people on engine-powered scooters are legal. Many of the scooters are in poor mechanical condition with flat and bald tyres and misaligned wheels and there are some that can't have had an MOT for a while. The way they're often ridden leaves a lot to be desired too. Most are L plate riders but I'm doubtful if some have passed a CBT.

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wycombewheeler replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 5 months ago
2 likes
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

I don't agree in confiscating a vital work tool from someone who is already economically hard up.  

How is it a vital work tool if it cannot be used? The only way this vital tool could enable the owner to continue to work is if they continue to break the law which they are now fully aware of.

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Jetmans Dad replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 5 months ago
4 likes
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

I don't agree in confiscating a vital work tool from someone who is already economically hard up. Educate yes, even administer some sort of fine. 

If the thing itself is illegal, how does it serve anyone's needs to allow them to keep it and continue to ride it (which you clearly expect them to). 

You could institute the same system as used for defective cars ... issue them an order to get it legal within a specified time period and prove it to the police ... but how do you enforce that without the vehicle being registered?

Not to mention, if they are that econimically hard up, can they afford to make it legal and, if they can, should they not be required to just buy a legal bicycle?

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Adam Sutton replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 5 months ago
2 likes

I guess a lot of the problem is like e-scooters, many are sold under the proviso they are not going to be used on the road, when reality is they know damn well they will be.

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danhopgood replied to Shermo | 5 months ago
9 likes
Shermo wrote:

If they wanted to clamp down on these illegal bikes just order something via Deliveroo or Uber eats..

Better, never order from gig economy firms.  Don't feed the monster.

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OldRidgeback replied to Shermo | 5 months ago
5 likes

Most of the delivery riders in London are on Franken-e-bikes too. They whizz along pavements and through red lights. I've even had them overtake me when I've been on my motorbike and sticking to posted 20mph limits. I saw one the other day that was a standard e-bike with 20" wheels but which had obviously been boosted with a bigger battery. The rider was zooming along at speed without pedalling so the motor had been tweaked or replaced. But he was struggling to keep it in a straight line as it'd obviously hit something because the forks were bent back and the wheel was nearly touching the frame. He needed stopping for his own safety.

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iandusud replied to OldRidgeback | 5 months ago
0 likes

I think there is a strong argument for a registration system for bikes which are used for paid for delivery services. 

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Rendel Harris replied to iandusud | 5 months ago
4 likes
iandusud wrote:

I think there is a strong argument for a registration system for bikes which are used for paid for delivery services. 

Not sure about that, firstly it would undoubtedly be used (or certain parties would attempt to use it, at least) as a Trojan horse to get all bikes registered ("well it's been proved it can be done now...") and secondly if  riders are prepared to ignore the law on ebike restrictions now, why would they obey an additional level of restriction? The only way to find out if riders had registered bikes would be to pull them over, the police could do that now if they were so inclined, it doesn't exactly take an expert to determine if a bike's legal or not. I'd favour enforced self-policing by companies, £5000 fine any time someone working for them was found to be riding an illegal bike, they'd soon have people out there checking up.

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
0 likes

Well I'm not a tabard-fancier myself.  And the delivery business is clearly a whole murky area of the economy.  And there's probably zero interest in this or any conceivable next government on lifting the lid.

OTOH ... it does grind my gears that the (predominantly food) delivery companies have fixed it so they can take the extra cash and disclaim responsibility.  While I don't believe in most "giving us a bad name" type arguments (the stereotypes are already out there) there may be an issue around this in some places.  A chunk of the delivery folks are riding pretty wildly and sometimes antisocially.  This often happens in population centres and they're very noticable.

Not sure how successful getting the firms to self-police would be, given at least part of their business strategy seems to be working round the law to avoid responsibility.  And what would the electric bike sellers / suppliers do?  "Are you going to use this on the road say no or we can't sell it you?"  Job done.

However (checks) 20 years back the government did make an effort to clean up another very shady area and set up the Security Industry Authority.  (Not up to date on how that's gone, mind).  So I guess these things are possible.  With the political interest and will of course.

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