Bike industry employees deluge European Commission with submissions to e-bike consultation

The European Commission has received 530 submissions to a consultation seeking views on changes to the Motor Industry Directive which makes it mandatory for European e-bike users to have motor-vehicle insurance. A great many of the submissions are boilerplate in nature and have been submitted by employees of companies such as Specialized.

The deadline for the consultation was on Tuesday.

CONEBI’s Manuel Marsilio told BikeEurope that the high level of submissions was a "very important and useful step in the common advocacy campaign which CONEBI and the European Cyclists’ Federation conducted.”

The ECF – via its Cycling Industry Club – and industry organisation CONEBI encouraged those involved in the European cycle industry to submit to the European Commission’s consultation individually as well as via company statements. 

The typical boilerplate statement started: "I am replying as an employee of Specialized Europe B.V.: I am very much against the inclusion of Electrically Power Assisted Cycles (EPACs) within the revision of the Motor Insurance Directive because of the following reasons …"

The similarly worded statements came from employees of cycle companies across the EU, and were also submitted in languages other than English.

As well as submissions from e-bike companies there were also submissions from the likes of road-brand Mavic of France and childrens’ bike specialist Frog Bikes of the UK.

The European Commission will now have to decide whether to uphold the decision that electric bikes should be included in the controversial changes made to the Motor Insurance Directive earlier in the year.

The boilerplate submissions state that e-bikes – or EPACs, electrically pedal assisted cycles – are a "key part of the cycle industry’s future employment growth potential. Current EPAC sales show that in the European Union, millions of EPACs are sold every year and sales are increasing rapidly. The inclusion of EPACs in the scope of the MID would directly impact an industry that invests 1 billion euro per year in research, innovation and development and which provides 90,000 direct/indirect Green jobs across the EU."

The boilerplate warns a "negative impact on sales would put at risk many jobs in our European Industry" and it adds a "mandatory third-party liability insurance for EPACs users is an over-regulatory barrier that would have a severe impact on the environmental and health benefits deriving from cycling an EPAC: the health benefits of cycling are over 191 billion Euros per year and EPACs are zero-emission vehicles that tackle the growing problem of traffic congestions in cities. If motor vehicle insurance were to be made compulsory for EPACs, EPAC users would be discouraged from cycling, and the mentioned benefits be lost.’

CONEBI and ECF "call on the European Parliament and Member States to amend the text. We would like to see a definition of a motor vehicle within the legislation that excludes Electrically Power Assisted Cycles. More specifically we kindly propose “motor vehicle” defined with the word “solely” included in the text, therefore a motor vehicle should be a vehicle that is ‘…solely propelled by mechanical power’."

The submissions are a reaction to a bombshell dropped by the European Commission earlier in the summer – effective immediately, e-bike owners would need motor-vehicle insurance to be street legal. That was a strict, legalistic reading of the Commission’s decision that all forms of motorised vehicles now “fall within the scope of the [EU Motor Vehicle Insurance] Directive as interpreted by the Court of Justice in its case-law." 

The case law referred to is Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav, commonly shortened to just “Vnuk”.

Vnuk is an unfortunate Slovenian farm worker who was knocked from a ladder by a reversing tractor in 2007. Triglav was driving an uninsured tractor. The case was originally heard in Slovenia, but then taken up in the Court of Justice of the European Union. In September 2014 the ECJ ruled that the requirement in the EU Motor Insurance Directive, devised in 1972, was for vehicles to be insured for any use consistent with the normal function of that vehicle. This means the incident in Slovenia should have been covered by compulsory motor vehicle insurance.

The European court decided that the regulation “applies to the use of vehicles, whether as a means of transport or as machines, in any area, both public and private, in which risks inherent in the use of vehicles may arise, whether those vehicles are moving or not.”

Further, the ECJ stated that: “Insurance obligation in respect of motor vehicles set out in the EU Motor Insurance Directives is now to be interpreted as extending to ‘any use of a vehicle consistent with the normal function of that vehicle’."

The court ruled that off-road vehicles, such as tractors and racing cars, have to be insured even if they never drive on a public highway. This was then extended to any motor vehicles that could potentially travel on the public highway, including Segways, hover boards, ride-on lawn-mowers and, yes, e-bikes.

Soon after the dropping of the bombshell the European Cyclists’ Federation said: "With this text, the European Commission is trying to criminalize millions of current power-assisted bicycle users, almost all of whom have some kind of other insurance and has effectively banned pedelec use without insurance usually reserved for motor vehicles."

The cycle industry has long been aware of the potential consequences of e-bikes falling “within the scope of the [Motor Vehicle Insurance] Directive” and has been lobbying against e-bikes being so included. This lobbying will now have to be intensified before the European Commission’s decision is ratified by the European Parliament.

The decision was made by the EU’s financial services directorate, which has little interest in e-bikes per se. The directorate had to decide what was a “motor vehicle” and it included almost anything road-going with a motor on it. The cycle industry has been lobbying that pedal-assist e-bikes do not rely on the motor alone so should not be classified as “motor vehicles”. The financial services directorate thought differently – in effect, civil servants saw only the motor.

Cycle industry leaders now fear that other legislatures around the world will harmonise with the EU and also classify e-bikes as motor vehicles thereby requiring their riders to buy motor-vehicle insurance, and possibly having to wear helmets and fit number plates, too.

Kevin Mayne of the Cycling Industry Club, the industrial arm of the European Cyclists’ Federation, urged at the time that local retailers, distributors, company branches and other e-bike suppliers should gear up for action. He said “each MEP and each member state needs to hear about the damage this regulation will do, and they need to hear it from the businesses that will be affected."

He added that the “formal clarification is currently only a proposal” but that the “civil servants didn’t give much confidence in their decision-making by publishing an opinion that many of these devices were currently already included in the scope of compulsory motor insurance, a statement that has not been tested in court, but suggests all current users and owners of these devices need insurance now.”

E-bikes, he said, had been “caught up in a piece of decision-making that shows little or no understanding of its impacts.”

The cost of motor-vehicle insurance and the possibility of being made to wear helmets and sport number plates would be “a huge burden for an emerging market,” warned Mayne, “and we know that in most countries cycling is not mainstream enough for consumers to ignore the barriers. It removes one of the most important competitive advantages pedelecs have over scooters and mopeds, their freedom and flexibility.”

The civil servants at the EU financial services directorate have told the European Cyclists’ Federation that “they find it easiest to take the recent EU court ruling and just pass it on as widely as possible,” said Mayne.

“When challenged about the damage this could do they either imply ‘nothing to do with us’ or ‘member states can deal with it by exemptions.’ This is the behaviour of a very powerful regulatory directorate whose main interest is the big financial institutions and national governments.”

The European Parliament has to approve the changes, said Mayne, but the most important power will be national governments.

“If for some reason we don’t get the proposal overturned collectively by the European Parliament or by member states the good news is that every national government has the power to exempt [e-bikes] from these regulations.”

But Mayne stressed that “we will need every national government to know the damage that the EU is about to do to the e-bike market.”

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