India to include electric scooters under ‘vehicle’ category

India to include electric scooters under ‘vehicle’ category

Think you do not need a license to drive an electric scooters anywhere in the world? Well, it depends on what country you are living in. If you happen to live in India, your days as a care-free electric scooter user are coming to an end. The Indian government is about to categorize such two-wheeler as a ‘vehicle’, thus putting it under the same label as electric motorcycles, e-carts, e-rickshaws, petrol-powered motorcycles, and other types of vehicles. As such, you will be required to obtain the mandatory two-wheeler driving license and insurance, register your unit, and in the name of safety, wear a helmet, among other requirements that apply to motor vehicles.

Via an amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, the government will withdraw all exemptions for electric scooters. The latest amendment will ensure all electric scooters now fall under the same category as their internal combustion engine counterparts. At present, any electric two-wheeler with a maximum speed of less than 25 km/h and power of less than 250 W fall under the exempt category. Owners whose units perform below the aforementioned levels need not to register at their local transport authority board since their vehicles are not classified as motorbikes. However, their units should belong to manufacturers that obtain type approval certificates from a testing/validating agency, such as the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI).

What the new amendment entails

Should the new amendment be incorporated into the Motor Vehicles Act, violations by people who drive electric scooters will attract penalties. Road transport ministers of different states will incorporate penal provisions in traffic rules and regulations and in the Police Act to effectively enforce much-needed road discipline. They also urge the central government to incorporate the rights and duties of pedestrians, motorists, and other non-motorized traffic into the National Highway Act.

Why the need for such amendment?

India is the second largest global market for two-wheel vehicles after China. Over the last couple of years, the number of electric scooters running on city roads have increased, and auto manufacturers like Mahindra & Mahindra, Hero Electric, and Ather Energy are coming up with new, faster, and more powerful electric two-wheelers every now and then. During the last fiscal year 2015-2016, 22,000 electric vehicles have been sold, of which 20,000 are two-wheelers, according to figures released by the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV). The Indian government is actively campaigning for the mass adoption of electric vehicles, including electric scooters, and is even offering incentives to boost their sales. Makes one think that such electric two-wheelers deserve some sort of regulation, doesn’t it?

Indeed, especially if they happen to figure out in traffic violations or worse, road accidents. Traffic cops have been caught in a fix over the increasing number of electric scooters in major Indian cities. Many drivers are said to have scant regard for traffic rules, often driving at dangerous speeds and not wearing protective headgear. Due to their drivers’ carelessness, electric scooters are prone to accidents. Policemen are struggling to restrain them, especially during rush hour, but cannot take action due to the loopholes in the laws. The amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act will change that.

The amendment aims to protect all road users. By requiring electric scooter users to wear protective headgear, it actually protect them against sustaining serious injury to their head, should they figure out in a road accident. By requiring users to obtain the mandatory insurance cover, the amendment helps victims claim damages. It will give traffic cops enough power to ticket offenders and even confiscate their unit. In a way, the amendment will help both government and electric vehicle industry obtain relevant data by requiring users to register their unit. It will also professionalize the electric scooter riding sector by mandating users to apply for license. Greater road discipline and wider protection for all road users are in the mind of the people behind the amendment.

Unruly electric scooter users can do nothing but follow the law. Contributing to the green cause is good, but following the law is better. Users should not think of themselves as a privileged bunch. Instead, they should be considerate towards other vehicle users and pedestrians. They should think of other road users’ safely, not only their own.

Amendment to improve quality of electric scooters?

There is no better time than now for the amendment to make its way into the Motor Vehicles Act. The Indian government is pushing for electric vehicles, including electric scooters, on the road, and established local auto manufacturers and start-ups are launching their versions of electric two-wheelers. The electrification of the scooter is perhaps India’s best contribution to the field of electric mobility. By regulating the electric two-wheeler market, the amendment is indeed pushing for superior India-made vehicles.

Most electric scooters sold in India are made from parts and components imported from China. They are locally assembled in small workshops and are sold at cheaper prices to buyers who cannot afford an entry-level petrol-powered scooter. This results in the compromised quality of the built product: the speed is low, range is limited, battery life is short, and the design is inferior. The scooters even fail to comply with the requirements and accordance to run on public roads.

There are also manufacturers that produce electric scooters that travel faster or operate more than 250 W. Some users even modify their units to run faster. Little could be about about it unless the amendment is finally incorporated into the Motor Vehicles Act. The loopholes in the laws have been long exploited by such people. The amendment will boost the quality of Indian electric scooters.

Similar laws and issues elsewhere

India is not the only country that wants to regulate electric two-wheelers. Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communication is mulling licensing requirement for electric bicycle users as a way to enhance road safety education and to crack down on illegally modified electric bikes. The proposal is a response to the growing number of accidents involving electric bicycles. More than 1,500 people were injured last year. The rate of road accidents increased, following the increase in the number of electric bikes. Units with altered engines that allow them to run faster have spiked the increase in accidents. The ministry’s proposal to require electric bike riders wear a helmet and carry certification labels was approved.

Electric Bike law in Australia

Similar issue of modification of electric bike engines also exist in Australia, and current laws can only do little about it. Under existing road regulations, on-road electric bikes are limited to 25 km/h and 250 W. However, users flout regulations by modifying their units to run faster. Road safety advocates warn that incidence of road accidents will increase along with the growing numbers of electric bikes.

State of California legislation

The State of California, US passed A.B. 1096, a new legislation that clarifies the regulation of electric bikes last year. A.B. 1096 provides clear rules on how such vehicles are to be equipped and operated and where they can be used. Electric bikes will no longer be regulated, but the same rules of the road will still apply to them as they do with conventional bicycles. Requirements that apply to motor vehicles will not apply to electric bikes.

New York laws on two-wheeler

In the city of New York, however, laws on electric two-wheelers are unclear. Though New York State law require that owners register their electric bike as they would a motorcycle or car, but there is not a clear way to register them. It is effectively illegal to operate them, since they cannot be registered as motor vehicles. “Motorized scooters” are banned in the city, and they are the most common electric two-wheelers confiscated by cops on their “crackdown” on electric bikes. Cycling advocates are actively pushing for the full legalization of electric bikes in both state and city.

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