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Everything you need to know about Zero emission light powered vehicles

Zero emission light powered vehicles (ZELPVs) are increasing in popularity around the world as a cleaner, cheaper and more space efficient form of transport, with the potential to help tackle the worsening problems of urbanisation such as congestion and pollution. Despite this, there is little information available to members of the public who may not know what ZELPVs are, or for those who may want to find out more about them.

We have put together a short guide which will describe what ZELPVs are and why an individual may want to use one, the safety of ZELPVs, who can use them, and our thoughts and recommendations.

What are zero emission light powered vehicles (ZELPVs)?

Zero emission light powered vehicles (ZELPVs), also known as powered light vehicles (PLVs), are vehicles with two, three or four wheels that are smaller and lighter than traditional vehicles, and produce zero exhaust emissions.

Legally, all ZELPVs can be classified as “L-category” vehicles. Within this category, vehicles are separated into groups depending on characteristics such as their size, engine capacity and speed, and different licence entitlements are required depending on the vehicle.

Examples of ZELPVs include small electric mopeds, tricycles and quadricycles (small cars). Electric bicycles , electric scooters and traditional cars are not included. Although ZELPVs are not yet very popular in the UK, they are often used abroad for urban journeys and local cargo deliveries, and we expect this class of vehicles to grow over time.

Types of Zelpv

Why use a ZELPV?

These vehicles may contribute to reductions in emissions, help tackle issues of social isolation and contribute to significant reductions in congestion. The transport sector is responsible for approximately one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

As ZELPVs are small, they have the potential to help us use valuable road space more efficiently and enable a shift from the use of traditional transport modes for commuting and leisure journeys, as well as during deliveries in which a ZELPV may replace a van for dropping off parcels to their final destination in urban areas. They may also be used in the gig economy.

ZELPV safety

ZELPVs sit across several vehicle categories. As such, collision data is not readily available or is aggregated within a broader category which does not enable easy analysis of risk. Some safety data is available in the form of tests carried out on electric quadricycles by Euro NCAP. If you are considering buying a ZELPV, it is worth checking if it has been tested and given a safety rating using this web page.

As ZELPVs are smaller and lighter than traditional vehicles, individuals who use them are more vulnerable to harm on the road. Also, ZELPVs are required to meet different safety standards when compared to traditional vehicles. For example, passive safety features are not a legal requirement for quadricycle ZELPVs, meaning they can lack seat belts and airbags. However, ZELPVs do have to meet the requirements for European-type approval laws.

Use of ZELPVs may help to shift heavier vehicles off the road. The presence of these lighter vehicles may cause less damage in the event of a collision, particularly in terms of harm to other road users when compared to heavier vehicles – cars are the vehicle type most often involved in fatal collisions when others are killed, followed by HGVs and LGVs (vans): in 2020, 68 per cent of pedestrian and 48 per cent of pedal cyclists who were killed were hit by a car.

The inverse of this is that ZELPV users, particularly during early stages of uptake, may be more vulnerable in the event of a collision with a heavier vehicle.

Can I use a ZELPV?

To operate a ZELPV on public roads, it must be registered and insured, and the individual who will be driving or riding it must have an appropriate licence with the correct entitlements. Requirements for the different ZELPV categories can be seen in the following table:

Type of ZELPV L-category classification Relevant licence entitlements Insurance Registration with DVLA
Two wheel moped L1 AM, A1, A2, A, B
Three wheel moped L2 AM, A1, A2, A, B
Two wheel motorcycle L3 A1, A2, A
Two wheel motorcycle with sidecar L4 A1, A2, A
Tricycle L5 A1, A2, A, B
Light quadricycle L6 AM, A1, A2, A, B, B1
Heavy quadricycle L7 B, B1

You can view which vehicles you can drive or ride with your current licence by visiting this government website.

To understand the different routes that can be taken to obtain the different motorcycle entitlements, read this flowchart from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. Potential users should be aware that, depending on the type of motorcycle, varying age limits are present and multiple practical tests may be required.

Do I need safety gear to use a ZELPV?

Safety gear is required to use a ZELPV, however the type of equipment needed depends on your mode of transport and where in the UK you are using it. If your ZELPV is a motorcycle or moped (or a quadricycle in Northern Ireland), you must wear a helmet that meets British safety standards while riding on the road. The Highway Code states that a helmet should also be worn when using a tricycle or a quadricycle, although this is not a legal requirement (except when referring to quadricycles in Northern Ireland). For more information about safety equipment and the standards required, you can visit our Electric Motorcycle factsheet.

Do I need to get post-test training?

To help improve the safety of yourself and others, we strongly recommend post-test training which can enhance your confidence and skills. Examples of post-test training include the advanced training offered by RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders and other providers.

Commentary and policy recommendations

We would like the safety implications that could arise from increased ZELPV use to be considered. For smaller, two-wheeled ZELPVs, the level of risk faced by the user would be comparable to that of motorcyclists, who consistently have one of the highest casualty rates on Great Britain’s roads. For other road users such as pedestrians, injury risk may be increased if an uptake in ZELPVs simply adds more traffic to our roads rather than reducing the use of traditional vehicles.

As the use of ZELPVs in the UK increases, we would like to see health and safety at the heart of every stage of their development, from their design and manufacturing to their testing and licensing. Initially, this may involve the commissioning of research into the advantages and disadvantages of increased ZELPV uptake, investigating areas such as congestion, emissions and injury risk.

We would also like to see a government campaign which helps to increase awareness and provide safety information, as well as guidance and protection for employees who use ZELPVs as part of their job, including who is responsible for safety in different situations. Furthermore, ZELPVs should be given their own category when road safety collision data is being collected, allowing for a better analysis of safety.

If you purchase a ZELPV, it is important to learn how to charge it properly in order to keep yourself and others safe. Advice on charging an electric vehicle safely can be found on this web page from Electrical Safety First.


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