Mr. Jay Townley
Jay Townley & Associates
N1367 Southern Road
Lyndon Station, WI 53944-9708
Dear Mr. Townley:
This is in reply to your letter of August 25, 1997, asking whether ZAP electric bicycles are exempt from NHTSA jurisdiction.
You have enclosed a copy of a ZAP owner's manual for our information.
We have previously corresponded with you on the subject of electric bicycles. At that time (February 16, 1993) we advised you that there was a significant difference between the Yamaha pedal-assisted bicycle and motorized bicycles and mopeds. The propulsion systems of the latter vehicles enable them to operate on power without pedaling. However, the power assist of the Yamaha disengaged when torque at the pedals was less than 11 pounds, which meant that the system will not operate on its own, in the absence of muscular effort. We concluded that, in light of the combination of a low maximum speed while operating on power (the power of the Yamaha disengages when speed is more than 15 mph) and the fact that power is only provided if the operator is providing muscular effort (by continuously pedalling), the Yamaha was not a "motor vehicle" subject to our jurisdiction. We noted that, even with power assist, the operation of the Yamaha is essentially the same as that of a bicycle, i.e., the operator must pedal under the same circumstances as a traditional bicyclist and the speed of the Yamaha does not differ from the speed of traditional bicycles.
The ZAP presents a different situation. Page 8 of the ZAP manual depicts three modes of "Engagement Lever Operation": "Rider Only," "Motor-Assisted," and "Full-Time Power-Assisted" for the operation of the vehicle. You will note that one of them allows the ZAP to be operated at all times by electric power alone, and without any muscular input of the rider. Page 13 of the ZAP manual depicts two "Performance Optimization Charts." The top chart "indicates the distance the bike will travel while people of various weight are not pedaling." The chart indicates a range of 17 miles for a 75-pound rider at the low speed setting for the electric motor, down to a range of 4 miles for a 245-pound driverat the high speed setting for the electric motor.
Although ZAP does not recommend running the motor without pedaling, its electric bicycle is clearly designed to do so and, without muscular input from the rider, can propel the vehicle at speeds up to 10 mph at distances up to 17 miles. Under 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(6), a "motor vehicle," is defined in pertinent part, as "any vehicle that is driven or drawn by mechanical power, manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways." We have concluded that the ZAP meets this definition, and is a motor vehicle, notwithstanding the fact that it can also be operated by pedals alone, or by pedals assisted by the motor.
It therefore appears to be subject to the Federal motor vehicle safety standards that apply to motorcycles and motor driven cycles, notwithstanding any representations to the contrary by its manufacturer.
Your client may wish to be advised that, under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, any person who sells a motor vehicle that is not in compliance with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,100 per violation, up to $880,000 for any related series of violation.
If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel