Manager, Product Safety and Compliance Division
Matsushita Technology Development Center
Matsushita Electric Corporation of America
One Panasonic Way, 4B-8
Secaucus, NJ 07094
Dear Mr. Imagawa:
This letter replies to your letter of December 20, 1996, to Bob Shelton of this agency, as supplemented by your letters of January 9 and January 14, 1997, to this Office.
You describe the subject of your letters as a "battery-operated DC-motor-driven bicycle." You have told us that you plan to market this machine and asked whether "49 USC Chapter 301 (Motor Vehicle Safety) and 49 CFR Parts 390 & 571 are applicable to this kind of product or not." You tentatively concluded "that only CPSC has the mandatory safety requirements for a bicycle. . . ." If we understand your letters correctly, the battery provides the same amount of torque as the torque provided by a rider pedaling the bicycle up to a speed of 14.9 mph, at which point the motor cuts off and 100% of the torque is provided by the driver. The motor also shuts off whenever the driver stops pedaling.
First, the regulations at 49 CFR Part 390 are those of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA only regulates motor vehicles that are used for commercial purposes in interstate commerce. Your vehicle would not be operated in interstate commercial ventures and these regulations would not apply to you.
A "motor vehicle" as defined under 49 USC Chapter 301 is one that is "driven or drawn by mechanical power . . . ." With respect to your design, the vehicle would be driven primarily by muscular power, with a mechanical assist. At no point does the motor alone drive the bicycle. It assists the prime mover, muscular power, and does not drive the bicycle in the absence of muscular power. We have therefore concluded that your bicycle design with power assist is not a motor vehicle as defined by 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301 and is not subject to it or to 49 CFR Part 571. I enclose a letter of February 16, 1993, to Mr. J.C. Townley, which explains our views in somewhat greater detail.
You also asked whether "a driver's license is required by law when a bicycle is provided with a continuous (without pedaling) motive power exceeding a certain speed limit (Ex. 14.9 mph) or of more than 5 horse power." I am sorry that we cannot answer this question for you. Each State has its own requirements for licensing the operation of motor vehicles within its borders. We are unable to advise on the laws of the States, and suggest that you contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in each State where you intend to market your product.
If you have any further questions, you may call Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel