Transportation Ministry Approves Use of Motorized Bicycles in Israel

Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approved rules for the use of motorized bicycles, which until now had been illegal in Israel, but not scooters.

Ofer Vaknin

After more than two years of foot-dragging by the Transportation Ministry, the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee Monday approved rules for the use of motorized bicycles. Even officials of the ministry admitted that the bicycles were illegal until now.

The rules that were approved are partial and do not include regulations for using bicycles with throttles and electric scooters — both of which are illegal.

The regulations state that electric bicycles shall be limited to an output of 250 watts (0.33 horsepower), and their speed limited to 25 kilometers per hour. At that high speed, the electric motor will be shut off, according to the European standard. The minimum age for use will be 14.

According to the regulations, the bicycles will have a horn or a bell, lights in front and in the rear, and a reflector. A throttle (a “gas” handle) is allowed, but only for use at the start of the trip, until the bicycle reaches a speed of six kilometers per hour.

The regulations state further that the bicycles will carry a sticker reading “Bicycle with supplementary motor” on the frame. The sticker will carry the name of the model, the name and address of the manufacturer, the country of manufacture and the importer’s name and address. It will also contain the motor’s output, speed and age. A bill will also be promoted that extends the requirement to wear a helmet to any trip on a bicycle at any age.

But the issue of enforcement remains unresolved. The police are in charge of enforcing bicycle regulations, and local authority inspectors will also be given the power to do so following an agreement between the Transportation Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, the Israel Police and the Union of Local Authorities.

Enforcement regarding importing, marketing and sale of electric bicycles will be carried out by inspectors of the Transportation Ministry, the Economy Ministry and the Israel Standards Institute.

Transportation Ministry officials promise that over the next few weeks it will begin a PR campaign, together with the National Road Safety Authority, to raise awareness of the need for care on the roads, the proper way to ride electric bicycles and how to share the road with them.

Transportation Ministry Yisrael Katz said: “Like ordinary bicycles, bicycles with electric motors allow for flexibility in planning trips. They also provide an affordable and effective solution to the parking problem in the downtown areas of cities.”

The bicycle importers’ forum in Israel, which is part of the Israel Chamber of Commerce, congratulated the Knesset committee on approving the regulations, saying, “We see this as a welcome step by which Israel will join the European countries that have a well-developed, advanced and ecologically sound bicycling culture. This regulation will increase the use of ecologically sound transportation that is good for the environment, and that is a recommended solution to transportation within the city. The bicycle importers’ forum will be happy to work with any of the involved parties to promote public relations and guidance among bicycle riders and pedestrians.”

Still, the fact that the regulations were only partially accepted has raised criticism. Shmuel Abuav, CEO of the traffic-safety organization Or Yarok, said, “Approving the regulations after a prolonged struggle that went on for three and a half years is an important step in restoring order and safety to cyclists and pedestrians. But along with that, the Transportation Ministry is missing an opportunity. The motorized scooters are no less dangerous than motorized bicycles, and the committee meeting should have been used to draft sweeping regulations for all electric two-wheeled vehicles.

“The police and the local authorities must now prepare for full enforcement of the regulations, particularly the rule regarding wearing a helmet, which has proven to be a lifesaving safety accessory,” Abuav continued.

“At the same time, rules must be made for bicycle paths, which will separate cyclists from cars and ensure the cyclists’ safety.”

Meital Lehavi, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and holder of the municipality’s transportation portfolio, wrote on her Facebook page, “My proposal to make 16 the legal age for riding electric bicycles was turned down, and questions about licensing, insurance and enforcement remain unanswered. The decisions that were made today are an important first step, even if an imperfect one, toward the regulation of two-wheeled transportation in the streets and the cities. Further discussion will take place over the next few months to resolve the issues that remain open.”