E-bikes represent a cost-effective and environmentally friendly means of transportation.  Since October 2009 the government of Ontario has permitted the use of e-bikes on public roadways.  Despite the increasing appeal of these vehicles the public are confused about the law relating to e-bikes.  This article endeavours to provide general information to those individuals who, by the operation of the law, do not have drivers’ licences (or have suspended driver’s licences).

The law relating to e-bikes is complicated by virtue of overlapping federal and provincial jurisdiction.  Under the Criminal Code a motor vehicle is defined as:

“a vehicle that is drawn, propelled or driven by any means other than muscular power, but does not include railway equipment”.

An e-bike constitutes a motor vehicle under the Criminal Code.

The Ontario government exercises its provincial jurisdiction by enacting and enforcing the Highway Traffic Act.  Under the Highway Traffic Act a motor vehicle is defined as:

“motor vehicle” includes an automobile, a motorcycle, a motor-assisted bicycle unless otherwise indicated in this Act, and any other vehicle propelled or driven otherwise than by muscular power, but does not include a street car or other motor vehicle running only upon rails, a power-assisted bicycle, a motorized snow vehicle, a traction engine, a farm tractor, a self-propelled implement of husbandry or a road-building machine”.

The Highway Traffic Act definition of motor vehicle is much narrower than that under the Criminal Code.  Accordingly, the Highway Traffic Act expressly excludes “power-assisted bicycles” (also known as e-bikes) from the purview of “motor vehicle”.  The Highway Traffic Act and the accompanying regulations set out the requirements for operating an e-bike.  Where a person’s driver’s licence is suspended under the Highway Traffic Act that individual is prohibited from driving any motor vehicle for which a licence is required.  Consider the following simple example: Brian has a number of unpaid fines under the Highway Traffic Act.  As a result of these unpaid fines his driver’s licence is suspended.  Brian cannot operate a traditional motor vehicle (i.e. a car) because he does not have the requisite licence; however, there is no licence required to drive an e-bike.  Thus despite his Highway Traffic Act licence suspension Brian may operate an e-bike.

In contrast let us return to the Criminal Code: because of the broad definition of “motor vehicle” contained therein a person subject to a driving prohibition under the Criminal Code is restricted from operating an e-bike.  Consider this second hypothetical situation: John pleads guilty to impaired driving and is sentenced to a one-year driving prohibition.  A day later John discovers an advertisement: “e-bikes: you don’t need a driver’s licence”.  Many people, like the fictional John, have been confused and misled by such information.  It is true that you do not need a driver’s licence to operate an e-bike; however, John does not have a licence because it was suspended pursuant to a driving prohibition order under the Criminal Code (for impaired driving).  Pursuant to this order he cannot drive anything that qualifies as a “motor vehicle” under the Criminal Code, including an e-bike.

In summary if you have been convicted of a Criminal Code offence (dangerous driving, impaired driving, over 80, impaired care and control or over 80 care and control, etc.) and sentenced to a driving prohibition then you cannot operate an e-bike; however, if your licence is suspended under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act then you can legally operate an e-bike despite the suspension of your licence. 

If you have any additional questions or concerns about the unique facts of your particular case please do not hesitate to contact one of the experienced and knowledgeable lawyers at our firm.

There are safety and operator regulations for e-bikes.  Visit the Ministry of Transportation website for more information.