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03 March 2021
In January 2020 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have amended the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law to define and legalise the state-wide use of e-scooters and e-bicycles.(1) The veto, which came somewhat as a surprise to observers because of the lack of any significant opposition in the legislature, disappointed supporters of the bill. Supporters of the proposed legislation argued that New York was one of the few remaining jurisdictions in the United States that had not yet legalised a safe, sustainable and affordable way of moving away from automobile traffic and supporting a large part of the state's urban-based economy.
In May 2020 the New York state legislature passed its 2021 budget that incorporated changes to the initial effort and responded to the governor's stated concerns. The legislation permitted localities to enact their own e-scooter and e-bicycle laws, as long as they kept within the legislation's parameters. New York City passed its own legislation in November 2020.
Under the budget law, e-bicycles are divided into three groups:
The use of all e-bicycles and e-scooters is restricted to persons aged 16 years and above, while helmets are required for all scooter operators under the age of 18 and all those operating Class 3 e-bicycles. Other provisions of the new law provide for a 15 mph maximum speed limit for scooters and prohibit the use of both e-scooters and e-bicycles on pavements. Both can be used only on roads and highways with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less. Fines and jail time are in place for those operating an e-bicycle while intoxicated. Local municipalities can enact helmet requirements for those operating Class 1 or 2 e-bicycles and impose lower speed limits and other restrictions. Local municipalities can also opt out entirely and disallow the use of both devices.
As enacted, the new law gives Cuomo the additional safety measures that he desired – namely:
Still, the budget provision is considered a major win for those who advocate for New York's working poor. E-bicycles in particular are seen as vital to food and grocery delivery workers who previously faced steep fines and confiscation of their throttle-assisted bicycles.
Post-COVID-19 pandemic, will New Yorkers still be willing to ride the subway, take a taxi or hire a private driver as they did before? It has already been reported that there has been a spike in bicycle sales. As New Yorkers rethink their transport choices going forward, the use of e-bicycles and e-scooters will undoubtedly become more common throughout the state. The new law's regulation of their use bears watching. For example, it remains to be seen how the helmet requirement will affect the inevitable product liability lawsuits that will arise when collisions occur. Now that use of the vehicles while intoxicated is expressly prohibited by the state and has been made a crime, will such use provide a distinct and available legal defence to product manufacturers? Guidance from the state's existing case law regarding motor vehicle accident and motorcycle litigation will be needed.
For further information on this topic please contact Rosario M Vignali at Wilson Elser by telephone (+1 212 490 3000) or email (email@example.com). The Wilson Elser website can be accessed at www.wilsonelser.com.
(1) Further information is available here.
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