Unfortunately this is not a “good news” post for Electric Unicycles Enthusiasts, but it is better to be aware of the facts so that you are less shocked if and when it happens to you.
The legal situation for Electric Unicycles in most countries is not clear at all because there are only very few countries where the law considers Electric Unicycles, but “grey area” doesn’t mean that you are allowed to use them.
Let’s look at two examples. The two examples are Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK). In Switzerland the rules are stringent and quite onerous, but at least they are clearly defined and if you stick to the rules it is allowed to use an Electric Unicycle. In the UK there are no rules (yet), but it is most likely illegal to use an Electric Unicycle.
In Switzerland Electric Unicycles are allowed, but require a number plate and insurance!
On 15 April 2015, the Federal Council adapted the technical requirements and road traffic rules for electric standing scooters and the original press release (in German) is here. With an interesting and clarifying table with details here.
In essence the new rules say that Electric Unicycles are permitted up to a 2000 W motor, a max. speed of 20 km/h and a max total weight of 200 kg. A drivers license is not required, but public liability insurance is required and a license plate (Mofa-Schild) is required. The minimum age is 16 without license and 14 with license (“Töffliausweis”). Importantly, the document says that the same rules as for bicycles apply (which probably also refers rules regarding front and back lights!) and the Electric Unicycle is permitted to be used on streets (i.e. where the cars drive!!) and in bicycle lanes, but not on footpaths.
All these rules also apply to Segways and Segway-like vehicles.
This is an amazingly forward thinking regulation and it makes it all very clear. Yes, there are some legal requirements, but importantly the Electric Unicycle is put on equivalent standing to the bicycle…where it belongs!
The Crown Prosecution Service states on their website here, that only a court can decide if a vehicle is a motor vehicle or not and then it lists a number of cases (including one about an Electric Scooter) where it was decided that the vehicle in question actually was a motor vehicle. So based on this, an electric engine is not a protection against a classification as a motor vehicle.
The same website then continues to explain the situation for Segways here. The legal situation there is that the Department for Transport (DfT) in the UK considers them as a motor vehicle, so you would need a licence and insurance and need to tax them. BUT to register a two-wheeled vehicle it has to be type approved according to the European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) from 1999 to ensure that the vehicle complies with basic safety standards. And the document states then “The DfT is not aware of any self-balancing scooters which have ECWVTA.” and also that no manufacturer of Segway-like vehicles has applied for a ECWVTA either because “Segways [are] not primarily intended to travel on the road.”
In other words, Segway or manufacturers of Segway-like vehicles either were afraid that they might get refused OR they knew that they will definitely get refused and therefore didn’t even try.
You might think that Segway and Electric Unciycle are not the same and you are absolutely right, however, the only difference to a judge might be the number of wheels and the Crown Prosecution Service continues
“Two or three wheeled vehicles not approved to ECWVTA could theoretically meet the requirements of the Motorcycle Single Vehicle Approval (MSVA) scheme. If so, they would be eligible for licensing and registration. However, despite such requirements being less stringent, according to the Department for Transport it would nevertheless appear to be difficult for self-balancing scooters to be rendered capable of passing the MSVA inspection.
Because self-balancing Personal Transporters do not meet the relevant requirements for use on UK roads, and because there is no separate legislation here for public road use by non-EC type-approved vehicles, they cannot be registered and licensed for use on a public road. As a consequence, any user of such a vehicle on a public road is likely at the very least to be committing the offences of using the vehicle without insurance and using the vehicle without an excise licence. Self balancing scooters do not currently meet the legal requirements and therefore are not legal for road use.”
What does that mean?
Because judges are not known for progressive interpretation of rules and previous cases, it could mean that a judge would compare an Electric Unicycle with a Segway and would declare it as a non approved vehicle and that its user has committed an offence.
So can I still use it on a footpath?
A footpath is probably seen as part of the public road and in addition using a motor vehicle on a footpath is not allowed anyway. You can see the problem there!
What will happen if a police man sees me?
Many Electric Unicycle users have reported that they were seen by police or drove by police and nothing happened. This is great and long may it last. But it only takes one police man who thinks that an Electric Unicycle is a Motor Vehicle and he can immediately seize the EUC based on the laws described here. The Electric Unicycle will – in all likelihood – not get in any immediate trouble, but a court will have to decide if the seizure was correct or not and if the EUC user committed an offence or not. As soon as the first case has been decided, a precedence has been created and times will get tough for Electric Unicyclists in the UK.
The recommendation from manufacturers and resellers is to use Electric Unicycles only on private ground. But it is clear to everyone that that is not really the ideal way of using this great means of transport.
On 25 June 2015, “John Eucist” posted an update about the situation in Hongkong in a Hongkong Electric Unicycle Group on Facebook. It describes the response of the Hongkong Government from 06 May 2015 to an enquiry about the Regulation of Electric Unicycles. The response is provided by the Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.
In it, the Secretary explains that Electric Unicycles are mechanically propelled vehicles and require registration and licensing, but they are can currently not be registered and licensed because they are not considered in the laws of Hongkong! Furthermore he points out that “Since the construction and operation of electric unicycles could pose danger to the users themselves and other road users, the Government has no plan at this stage to amend Schedule 1 to the Ordinance to permit the registration and licensing of electric unicycles.”
So it is illegal to use Electric Unicycles in Honkong and there is currently no plan to change that. :-(
Japan has some news too and we will write it up and interpret the news form there soon: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/07/06/reference/gyroscope-powered-rides-get-street-legal-status