Low-powered vehicles

Did you know?

Which do you need a driver’s licence in order to operate?
  • E-bike
  • Moped
  • Both

Many British Columbians are making the switch to greener modes of transportation. As a result, low-powered vehicles are popping up in communities across the province. Learn your rights as the operator of a low-powered vehicle, and how to prevent problems.

What you should know

What counts as a low-powered vehicle

In BC, there isn’t one set of traffic laws that applies across the board to all road users. There are certain rules of the road that are specific to cyclists and pedestrians. And there are different laws and requirements for low-powered vehicles

A variety of vehicles fall into this category. The ones we’ll focus on here are:

  • electric bikes (also called e-bikes or motor-assisted cycles)

  • mopeds (also called limited-speed motorcycles)

  • motorized scooters and skateboards

The law treats each of these vehicles differently. Let’s dig into how to operate each one safely and legally. 

Operating an electric bike (or e-bike)

“I get together with a group of friends for a bike ride every weekend. A few of them have made the transition to electric bikes. I was intrigued, so I asked if I could take one of theirs for a test drive. From the moment I got that motor going, I was hooked. I decided to invest in my own e-bike, and now I’m powering up those hills like never before!”

– Daisy, West Kelowna, BC

Under BC law, an electric bike (also called an e-bike) is referred to as a motor-assisted cycle. It’s defined as a device that:

  • a person can ride,

  • has pedals or hand cranks attached to it so it can be propelled by human power,

  • is powered by an electric (not gas) motor that doesn’t exceed 500 watts, 

  • has two or three wheels, and

  • can’t go faster than 32 km/h on level road.

There are other technical criteria that must be met as well. 

Rules of the road for electric bikes

To operate an electric bike, you must be 16 or older and wear a bicycle helmet. You don’t need a driver’s licence. And you don’t need to register or insure your electric bike. 

You must follow the same rules of the road as motor vehicle drivers, like obeying speed limits and traffic signs. Also, you must follow the rules that apply to cyclists.

Options for insuring your electric bike

Often, electric bikes are covered under a homeowner insurance policy. Coverage generally includes any theft or damage to your bike. It could also include liability coverage, in case you injure someone or damage their property. Consider speaking to your insurance broker about expanding your homeowner policy to cover your electric bike.

Operating a moped 

Under the law in BC, most mopeds are classified as limited-speed motorcycles. A limited-speed motorcycle is defined as a motorcycle that:

  • has no more than a 50cc piston displacement or 1.5 kilowatt motor rating, 

  • doesn’t require clutching or shifting once the drive system is engaged,

  • has a maximum speed of 70 km/h on level ground,

  • weighs no more than 95 kg (excluding fuel and batteries), and

  • has wheels that are at least 25.4 cm in diameter.

If a moped exceeds these limits, you may need a motorcycle licence to operate it.

Mopeds must be registered, licensed and insured 

In BC, mopeds must be registered, licensed, and insured for road use. 

Registering serves as the official record of your vehicle. It also identifies you as its owner. You need to register a vehicle before you can insure it. ICBC has guidance on how to register a vehicle

You must have a driver’s licence to ride a moped 

The driver’s licence can be of any class, except for a class 5 or 7 learner’s licence. A motorcycle licence isn’t required. 

You must wear an approved motorcycle helmet and follow all of the same rules of the road as motor vehicle drivers.

Speed limits may restrict where you can ride

There may be limits on where you can ride, depending on the speed of your vehicle. Contact your local police (using the non-emergency number) for information on any road or highway restrictions in your area.

Operating a motorized scooter or skateboard

Under BC’s main traffic law, motorized scooters and skateboards fall under the definition of a motor vehicle. That means they must only be ridden on BC’s roads and highways. But unfortunately, they don’t meet provincial equipment safety standards for on-road use. 

The result is you can only ride a motorized scooter or skateboard where BC’s main traffic law doesn’t apply. This includes private property or trails and paths (where local bylaws permit). 

Electric scooters are allowed in certain communities

Six municipalities in BC are participating in a pilot project on electric scooters (or e-scooters). Under this project, the municipalities can pass bylaws regulating the use of e-scooters on local roads. The municipalities involved are:

  • City of North Vancouver

  • City of Kelowna

  • City of Vernon

  • City of Vancouver

  • District of North Vancouver

  • District of West Vancouver

You can ride an e-scooter in these communities, provided you follow the provincial regulations and local bylaws. For more, see the provincial government’s website

Prevent problems

Step 1. Read up on any requirements

Before hitting the road in your low-powered vehicle, make sure you’re up to speed on the requirements. It can be helpful to run through a checklist. Ask yourself:

  • Does my vehicle meet the technical specifications?

  • Do I need to register my vehicle?

  • Is my vehicle properly insured?

  • Do I have the appropriate equipment and safety gear?

  • Am I familiar with the traffic laws that apply to me?

  • Are there any restrictions in my community on where I can ride?

See above for guidance on the requirements for low-powered vehicles. 

Step 2. Get equipped

Whatever type of low-powered vehicle you ride, it’s important to use equipment to protect your safety. 

Equipment for electric bikes

In BC, electric bike riders must follow the same rules as other cyclists. That includes wearing a proper helmet when riding. As well, they must have front and rear lights when riding in the dark. For the details, see ten rules of the road for cyclists

In addition to the equipment that’s legally required, other items can make your riding safer and more comfortable. Here are some to consider:

  • Fenders. A great option if you often ride in rainy conditions. 

  • Bike lock. Look for a sturdy, well-reviewed lock from a reputable brand. 

  • Flat tire protection. There are many products on the market, from puncture-proof tires to tube sealant. 

  • Reflective tape. Applying it to the frame of your bike will make you more visible to motorists. 

Look for integrated features

Consider buying an electric bike with fenders and lights built in. It may cost a bit more up front, but they’ll generally look nicer and rattle less than if you buy them separately. And integrated equipment is much more difficult to steal!

Equipment for mopeds

To ride a moped legally, you must wear an approved motorcycle helmet. Choose a helmet that meets the DOT, Snell, or ECE safety standards. See ICBC’s website for tips on buying a helmet.

Here are some other pieces of equipment to consider:

  • Gloves. A good pair serves the dual purpose of keeping your hands warm and preventing nasty scrapes.

  • Handlebar lock. Or some other type of anti-theft device.

  • Waterproof cover. Protect your vehicle from the elements when it’s not in use.

Step 3. Get your licence (if necessary)

You don’t need a driver’s licence to ride an electric bike. If your bike meets the specifications and you have proper equipment, you’re ready to go. See above for the requirements.

In order to ride a moped, you must have a valid driver’s licence. It can be of any class except for a class 5 or 7 learner’s licence. You don’t need to have a motorcycle licence. 

ICBC has more on getting your licence. As well, check out our guidance on your right to a driver’s licence

Step 4. Apply for insurance (if necessary)

Insuring an electric bike

You’re not legally required to insure your electric bike. But it’s not a bad idea. Insuring your electric bike can cover you for liability, theft, injury, and damage. Some homeowner insurance policies cover electric bikes. There are also policies available that are exclusively for electric bikes.

If you already have a homeowner insurance policy, read through the terms. If you don’t think it covers your electric bike, or if you’re unsure, contact your broker. If you’re interested, ask them if you can extend your homeowner policy to cover your electric bike. 

Insuring a moped

To ride a moped legally in BC, you must have insurance. Basic coverage through ICBC will run you about $50 per month. Speak to an insurance broker near you to learn your options.

Before you can insure your moped, you must register it. Registering serves as the official record of your vehicle. The steps you take and the documents you need depend on where it’s currently registered. For step-by-step guidance, see ICBC’s website

Who can help

Helpful agencies

ICBC
Can help with registration, insurance, and licensing for low-powered vehicles.

  • Reviewed in June 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 7 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Joel Zanatta, Hammerco Lawyers LLP

Joel Zanatta

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