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E-Bike Injuries Increasingly More Severe, Studies Say

Emergency departments across the country are reporting more cyclists in their care amid a surge in electric bicycle (e-bike) popularity, according to new research.

In a study published earlier this year in JAMA Surgery, researchers from the University of California San Francisco say that hospitals saw e-bike riders with head trauma increase 49 fold from 2017 to 2022. In the same time period, helmet use reportedly declined by about 6%.

Only about 44% of e-bike riders report wearing a helmet, the study says.

Experts also say that faster speeds are a main factor in these rising numbers. E-bikes can reach speeds of 28 miles per hour. Some e-bikes work with pedal assist, propelling the cyclist forward faster. Others are equipped with a throttle that can be used whether the cyclist is pedaling or not.

​​”This near doubling of speeds coupled with pretty dismal rates of helmet use translates into an exponentially increased risk of head injuries,” Charles DiMaggio, director of injury research at New York University School of Medicine, tells NPR.

Soaring popularity, more accidents

Imports of e-bicycles grew from 437,000 in 2020 to more than 1.1 million in 2022, according to industry statistics. More e-bikes on the road will surely mean more accidents. And it’s the type of injuries associated with e-bike accidents that emergency physicians are finding most worrisome.

Brain injuries — even those that are labeled as “mild” — can have lasting physical and behavioral implications for riders. Being hit by a car and hitting the pavement during a bicycle accident can cause concussion and more intense traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) depending on speed and other factors.

Bicycling in general leads to the highest number of sport and recreation-related emergency department visits for TBIs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These cases are so frequent, in fact, that the agency has published a guideline to ERs on how to treat cyclists with TBIs. TBIs can be difficult to diagnose and treatments can vary by physician. As such, CDC researchers say the number of concussions counted as a result of a bicycle accident may actually be under reported.

Separate from TBIs, researchers say e-bike-related injuries of all kinds are on the rise.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported in fall 2023 that injuries of micromobility devices (including e-scooters and hoverboards) increased 21% from 2021 to 2022. The commission found that e-bikes alone made up 53,200 emergency department visits from 2017 through 2022.

Some of those visits weren’t due to accidents, but possibly due to faulty parts or malfunctioning equipment. The commission says staff have investigated 28 fires (many of which started while the e-bike was being charged), four brake problems, seven tire issues, and other miscellaneous reports.

Prioritizing safety

Education is a key in reducing the number of e-bike accidents, researchers say. Many riders don’t fully understand the difference in power that an electric motor can have. Some lawmakers agree – which is why the California legislature is considering a bill that would ban children under the age of 12 from operating all e-bikes and also require either a valid driver’s license or proof of passing a safety course for those older than 12.

While Benjamin Breyer, MD, senior author of the JAMA Surgery study, tells NPR he doesn’t necessarily want to see people ditch their e-bikes, he does want to see some changes from riders.

“I’d love to see more people wearing helmets. And I really do think that as a society, cities and towns can produce real changes on the road that impact safety and prevent these kinds of injuries,” he says.

Riders can help protect themselves from e-bike injuries by wearing the right gear, including a helmet and reflective or brightly-colored clothing. Following e-bike safety laws is important, too. In California, depending on the municipality, e-bikes aren’t permitted on some paths. Using designated lanes, following traffic laws, and studying a route ahead of time can also help in minimizing risk.

In the case of an accident

Even with proper rider preparation, the road is not a perfect place, and accidents between e-bike riders and vehicles are bound to happen sometimes.

If you’re involved in an accident, it’s important to first get yourself to safety if you are able to. Once you are safe, get the proper health care. Sometimes in high-speed accidents, emergency help is crucial. Other times, it can be important to seek care soon after the incident. Mild TBIs in particular can be hard to spot, so having an expert opinion can assist in the best recovery.

Documenting any diagnosis or health implication – physical or mental – may also prove to be helpful  in a personal injury lawsuit. Attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law are experts in handling e-bike cases.

When California cyclists are injured by a negligent driver, they’re entitled to compensation, which can vary depending on injuries, economic damages, and other factors.

To get a free consultation and speak to an attorney, call (415) 466-8717.