Motor assisted cycles: human power must be primary

motor assisted cycles must be propelled by human power

Motor assisted cycles must be operated primarily by human power, the BC Court of Appeal has ruled. The Court grappled with the issue of what exactly constitutes a motor assisted cycle under the legislation. It comes after BC Supreme Court ruled that a motor assisted cycle must have pedals in a usable position.

In the most recent case, Ali Ghadban appealed against his convictions for driving without a licence and driving without insurance. A police officer observed him riding an electric scooter and stopped him to ask for his licence and insurance. Mr. Ghadban did not have a licence and argued he did not need one as the scooter was a motor assisted cycle. Motor assisted cycles do not require a licence to operate and ICBC does not sell insurance for them.

Mr. Ghadban said he had carried out extensive research on his vehicle and he believed it fell within the Motor Vehicle Act’s definition of a motor assisted cycle. A judicial justice convicted Mr Ghadban of both charges and the decision was upheld on appeal at the BC Supreme Court before he appealed again at the BC Court of Appeal.

The vehicle in question had pedals attached to it that could propel it forwards although they could be removed and it would still work. The primary power for the scooter was a 500-watt electric motor. Mr Ghadban said he had never used the pedals as the vehicle weighed 300 lbs. The judges noted that it was unlikely anyone would want to pedal that much weight unless they were resistance training.

The motor could not be switched on when the pedals were in use so it effectively had two modes: either a low-powered electric motorcycle or a “very heavy, impractical motorcycle”.

The Motor Vehicle Act states a motor assisted cycle must have pedals or hand cranks attached to it that will allow for the cycle to be propelled by human power. Technically, since Mr Ghadban’s vehicle could be propelled by human power, it could be argued that the vehicle fit the description.

According to the Court of Appeal, however, the main issue was not whether the legislation requires a motor assisted cycle be primarily propelled by human power but rather “whether it is designed to be primarily powered by human power, with electric power supplementing or assisting”.

In other words, in order to be classified as a motor assisted cycle, a vehicle must be designed such that human power is the primary force and the electric motor is used to assist the pedalling, not be an alternative source of propulsion altogether.

Some of the Court of Appeal judges were satisfied that the vehicle satisfied the definition of a motor assisted cycle, however, the majority found it did not. Because Mr. Ghadban’s scooter was too heavy for human power to be the primary source of propulsion, the majority found it did not meet the definition of a motor assisted cycle.

Also, since the electric motor could not work when the pedals were in use it was actually an alternative to human power, not an assistance to it. The Court found the vehicle was, “designed to be used as a motor-scooter, not a pedal powered cycle, which meant it did not comply with the intention of the legislation”.

This ruling has implications for enforcement going forward. It means that people who ride motor assisted cycles need to make sure of two things. Firstly, motor assisted cycles must by primarily operated by human power. Secondly, the electric motor must be used to assist their pedalling, not as an alternative to it. So if the motor and pedalling cannot be used at the same time, the vehicle does not meet the definition of a motor assisted cycle.

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