How an incident involving a farmhand and a ladder may give e-bike biz headaches in Europe

Download PDF

A curious incident in Slovenia involving a farmhand, a ladder, a haystack and a tractor could end up having Europe-wide ramifications for the electric bike world.

In a case seen in the ECJ (Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav) a ruling was delivered that, in short, means EU states will be obligated to implement compulsory insurance on all motorised vehicles, regardless of their intended use and that potentially includes electric bikes.

Incidentally, an e-bike had nothing to do with the case. Back in 2007, the claimant, Mr Vnuk, was ascending a ladder when the base was struck by a reversing tractor piloted by Triglav.

The Slovenian courts referred the case on to the Court of Justice of the European Union having failed to settle. The European court was of the opinion that existing regulation “applies to the use of vehicles, whether as a means of transport or as machines, in any area, both public and private, in which risks inherent in the use of vehicles may arise, whether those vehicles are moving or not.”

In its case conclusion, the ECJ stated that: “Insurance obligation in respect of motor vehicles set out in the EU Motor Insurance Directives is now to be interpreted as extending to ‘any use of a vehicle consistent with the normal function of that vehicle’. The use of a vehicle is to be widely construed to include ‘any use’ and no longer restricted in geographic scope such as by reference to ‘public ‘or ‘private’ land.”

As it stands, nothing has yet changed in UK law terms at least, but as and when the expected amendment occurs the definition of vehicle will have to be clearly stipulated. An amendment of this type will typically take around 12 months to draft and be approved by Parliament.

CyclingIndustry.News has learned that, in the meantime, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain’s Phillip Darnton has begun lobbying relevant Government departments to redraft the Road Traffic Act to comply with the new judgement, as well as secure the exclusion of electric bikes.

National Governments will have the power to exempt certain classes of vehicle, though a collective insurance scheme will be required to cover such vehicles.

A document detailing the implications suggests: Any amendment will potentially have an impact on what may hitherto have been regarded as an Employer’s liability (EL) or Public Liability (PL) risks, for example, where injury and damage to property occurs beyond the carriageway. Accidents, injuries and property damage now brought within compulsory motor insurance as a result of Vnuk would have to be covered to the level required in the MID and the RTA.

The Bicycle Association has recently outlined very clear rules relating to what does class as an electric bike in the UK. There is no grey area, they say.