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E-Bike Safety: Crashes and Injuries on the Rise

E-bikes — pedal-assisted electric bikes — are becoming increasingly popular in urban settings for their ability to help cyclists go farther and faster. That also means that emergency rooms and doctors are seeing more injuries due to the safety risks the electric bikes pose.

“We know that e-bikes can go faster than traditional pedal cycles,” Charles DiMaggio, an injury epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, told the New York Times in 2020. “And we know that increased speed often results in more-severe injuries.”

Most e-bikes top out at about 28 miles per hour, while a regular bike tends to only reach speeds of about 20 miles per hour. It might not seem like a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but new data suggests that speed matters, especially when it comes to safety.

More Intense Injuries

A 2020 study by New York University researchers was one of the first to look at how injuries from e-bikes differ from traditional cycles. As expected, researchers, who gathered data from emergency room visits across the nation, found that more than 9 million people have sought out medical attention from an e-bike injury since 2000. Those injuries also were more likely to be more severe than a normal pedal bicycle and more likely to require hospitalization. 

Those findings are playing out in places close to home.

In February 2021, a 55-year-old San Francisco man died after hitting a parked car with his e-bike. Police said he was wearing a helmet, but with no padding, and alcohol may have been a factor in the accident.

Last year, Orange County reported a whopping 500% increase in e-bike accidents over the previous year. According to data obtained by CBS News, Providence Mission Hospital Mission Viejo treated 11 e-bike trauma patients from January to August 2020. During the same time period a year later, that number had increased to 70 patients. The hospital also saw the number of children with e-bike accidents jump from one to 22.

“The most common injuries are broken bones, arms and legs, followed by head injuries, followed by internal organ injuries,” Dr. Tetsuya Takeuchi, a trauma surgeon at the Orange County hospital, told the news station.

Many of those accidents involved patients that were not wearing helmets, according to the hospital.

Gaining Popularity 

We’re poised to hear more of these stories as the e-bike industry continues to gain ground. Crashes and popularity are already starting to correlate.

E-bike sales are predicted to grow from 3.7 million bikes sold in 2019 to 17 million in 2030, according to analytical trends. Experts expect that as many as 10 million e-bikes could be sold in 2024. Much of that growth is thanks to markets in Europe, but it’s also becoming increasingly more popular in the U.S. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted more people to trade in their cars for cycling, especially in urban areas. For places like San Francisco, with its steep hills and high traffic, e-bikes continue to make more and more sense for residents.

Research shows that e-bikes are also making cycling more accessible. That could also be behind why injuries are on the rise.

“E-bikes are making it possible for more people to ride a bicycle, many of whom are incapable of riding a standard bicycle or don’t feel safe doing so,” Portland State University researchers wrote in 2017. “With the help of the electric assist, e-bike users can take longer routes to avoid utilizing dangerous streets, they can accelerate quickly to get through wide intersections or away from a potential conflict, and they are able to keep up with the pace of traffic which minimizes the speed differential.”

On The Plus Side

Even with the safety risks, e-bikes come with a host of benefits too. 

A study published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health followed 101 men and women in Germany over the period of a two-week period. The study’s goal was to see whether the participants would change any cycling-related habits with access to an e-bike. 

Researchers found that riders didn’t particularly go any farther on the e-bikes, but they did ride more often and so even though their heart rate wasn’t as high during the ride, like it was for those who rode regular bikes, it did seem to meet the same range of moderate exercise over the course of a week.

Safety Steps

Most safety advice for regular bicycles applies to e-bikes, but you’ll want to spend more time getting used to the differences between the two. Many doctors who treat e-bike injuries say e-bike cyclists didn’t anticipate how much more powerful and heavy e-bikes are. While very similar, it still takes some time to adjust to handling an e-bike.

First, you should always wear a helmet. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury during a cycling crash by as much as 85%. 

Paying attention to the road is also important. Roadways can be dangerous for cyclists on normal bikes, but adding in speed and a new kind of bike ups the seriousness for being alert.

“As electrical bicycles become increasingly popular, other road users may need to recalibrate their expectations to maintain a safe interaction with this new type of bicycle,” Marco Dozza, a Chalmers University of Technology researcher, wrote in a 2013 study for the International Cycling Safety Conference. 

Finally, you should be prepared to break sooner than you would with a regular bike, experts say. Hong Quan, founder of the e-bike company Karmic Bikes, told Bicyling.com that an e-bike can add as much as 50 watts to your pedal stroke. That means you’ll want to spend more time slowing down when you’re approaching traffic or a stop.

Know the E-bike Rules and Restrictions

Depending on where you’re riding, there may be rules and restrictions that apply specifically to e-bikes. If you’re riding in California, our knowledgeable bicycle accident lawyers have put together a primer on the rules and restrictions that apply to you. Knowing the rules that apply to you helps you be a safer rider and avoid e-bike accidents.