PLEVs: Clarity at Last?
Germany, like other European countries, will soon be allowing personal light electric vehicles (PLEVs) like e‑scooters onto public roads. But the details of the proposed Ordinance on Personal Light Electric Vehicles (the PLEV Ordinance) are still in dispute. A first draft of the Ordinance was published in July 2018. Under this draft, a motorcycle test certificate would be required to operate PLEVs and PLEVs would have to be equipped with turn signals.
The draft has been criticized, particularly by companies trying to break into the market. A few details have been changed in the current draft. The Ordinance now provides for a minimum age of 12 (for vehicles with a maximum speed of 12 km/h) or 14 (for vehicles with a maximum speed of 20 km/h) to operate a PLEV. The turn signal requirement has also been watered down. The duty to obtain liability insurance coverage remains in the Ordinance.
Another question which has sparked debate is the question of where PLEVs may be operated in the future. The current draft of the Ordinance states that, in urban areas, vehicles with a maximum speed of 12 km/h may be operated e.g. on walkways and in pedestrian zones. This provision has drawn criticism from the German Road Safety Council and Deutsche Verkehrswacht, a German road safety association. Both organizations also call for mandatory motorcycle test certificates for operators of PLEVs.
Their concerns about allowing vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 12 km/h in walkways and pedestrian zones are shared by the relevant Committees of the Bundesrat [the Federal Council]. On 3 May 2019, they proposed a resolution which would strike these provisions from the Ordinance. As grounds, they cite the safety risk and the risk of conflict with other traffic participants.
In order to better account for local conditions, the Committees recommend inserting a clause allowing the road traffic authorities to prohibit the use of PLEVs in local areas where they would otherwise be permitted. They also recommend leaving the minimum age for operating PLEVs at 15, as originally intended, due to the similarity of PLEVs to motorcycles. However, they have not called for restoring the test certificate requirement.
The topics mentioned above were discussed in a public hearing held by the Federal Parliament on 8 May 2019 concerning a motion presented by the FDP (the Free Democratic Party) regarding e‑scooters and hoverboards. At the hearing, some experts also expressed safety concerns regarding the use of PLEVs on walkways. The federal government stressed that it is willing to compromise on this issue.
What will the future bring for PLEVs?
In view of the broad consensus concerning the use of PLEVs in walkways, it appears likely that the Federal Council will accept the recommendations. As far as other points are concerned, such as the minimum age for operating PLEVs and the duty to obtain insurance, we can only await the resolution. It also should be kept in mind that the Ordinance is to apply only for vehicles with handlebars. A separate Ordinance is planned for vehicles such as hoverboards, according to the Federal Transportation Minister.
While it is common for Ordinances to undergo changes on their way towards final adoption, the extent of the uncertainty is particularly pronounced in the case of the PLEV Ordinance. This lack of clarity makes it substantially more difficult for affected companies to make preparations for entering the market. Accordingly, they would be well-advised to closely monitor developments.
Adoption by the Federal Council on 17 May 2019
As expected, the Federal Council adopted a resolution approving the Ordinance on Personal Light Electric Vehicles (the PLEV Ordinance) on 17 May 2019, subject to the condition that use of PLEVs should be restricted to bicycle paths. However, the resolution also called for a minimum age of 14 years in order to operate a PLEV. Raising the minimum age to 14 would mean abandoning the proposal to introduce two different categories of PLEVs, each with different maximum design speeds. This would exclude some of the user groups targeted by the companies seeking to enter the market. No changes were made to the duty to obtain insurance, so that PLEV operators would still be obligated to obtain appropriate liability insurance coverage.
The Federal Cabinet adopted the revised Ordinance on Personal Light Electric Vehicles with Handlebars on 22 May 2019 and the Ordinance will take effect on 15 June 2019. Questions and answers concerning the Ordinance.
In its attached resolution, the Federal Council also made statements about the proposal for a separate Ordinance covering personal light electric vehicles without handlebars. The Federal Council’s resolution states that “a study on personal light electric vehicles published by the Federal Highway Research Institute in 2018 recommends that only personal light electric vehicles with a handlebar should be allowed onto public roads in order to ensure a minimum level of safety.” For this reason, the Federal Council rejects the idea of a separate Ordinance for such vehicles. However, it should be kept in mind that the Federal Ministry of Transportation itself has pointed out that the proposed Ordinance for PLEVs without handlebars would not require the approval of the Federal Council. It remains to be seen what future developments will bring with respect to this Ordinance.back