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Electric Bicycles: California Developing Statewide Safety and Training Program

The State of California has long sought ways to reduce ever-increasing pedestrian and bicycle deaths, but until this year there hasn’t been a uniform effort dedicated to electric bikes, which spiked in popularity during the pandemic and continue to be an attractive option for commuters and cycling enthusiasts.

Report after report shows that more people are being injured on e-bikes and those injuries are more severe, mostly because e-bikes, which have a motor that helps assist pedaling, go much faster than a traditional bicycle. Greater speed means a more severe impact during a crash. 

There are stark examples of increasing accidents from e-bikes across California. In 2021, Orange County reported an astonishing 500% increase in e-bike accidents over the previous year, according to CBS News

By September, communities across the state will be able to utilize e-bike safety training and protocols developed by the California State Patrol, thanks to a new law (AB 1946) signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August.

“Unlike bicycles, an average e-bike can go as fast as 20 mph. Without the proper safety education and training for parents and children on how to ride safely, where to ride, bike maintenance, and the rules of the road for cyclists and drivers, e-bike riders are at risk of experiencing severe injuries or even fatalities,” California assemblymember and bill author Tasha Boerner Horvath said of the legislation. “Currently, a handful of cities and bicycle organizations offer e-bike education classes. AB 1946 requires Caltrans and the Division of Traffic Safety to develop statewide, uniform safety education and training guidelines for e-bike riders to be posted on their respective websites to make it easier to locate and find this information.” 

This new safety programming available to cities across the state could mean more people feel comfortable and safe enough riding in urban areas to replace car trips with an e-bike – and climate researchers say that could be an important part of reducing greenhouse gasses and creating cleaner communities. 

A 2018 study found that about 20% of e-bike users have experienced some type of crash, even though most people reported feeling safer riding an e-bike over a traditional bicycle. 

“In addition to the conflicts that are shared with standard bicyclists, such as inattentive drivers and poor shared-road conditions, e-bike users face the danger of motorists misjudging their speed,” the study’s researchers wrote. “Perceived safety plays an essential role in whether an individual is likely to ride a bicycle for a given trip; thus, by enhancing one’s safety, e-bikes could potentially tap latent demand for bicycling by encouraging those who may not feel safe on a standard bicycle.”

E-bike sales are already soaring in the Bay Area and across the country, so having a few safety tips is essential.

Basic Safety Tips

E-bike riders are at a greater risk of being in a severe accident. A 2020 study by New York University researchers found that more than 9 million people have sought out medical attention from an e-bike injury since 2000, and those injuries were more likely to require hospitalization. 

As an e-bike rider, there are a few things you can do to ensure you’re staying safe on the road: 

Be Seen: Wearing reflective or bright gear, especially at night, will help drivers to see you on the road. In California, all bikes are required to have the appropriate lights and reflectors. Make sure you have the following:

— Lights: At night a white headlight visible from the front must be attached to the bicycle or the bicyclist. CVC 21201(d) and CVC 21201(e)

— Reflectors: At night bicycles must have the following reflectors:

  • Visible from the back: red reflector
  • Visible from the front & back: white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bicyclist’s shoes or ankles
  • Visible from the side: 1) white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bicycle and 2) a red or white reflector on each side of the back half of the bike. These reflectors are not required if the bike has reflectorized front and back tires. CVC 21201(d)

Monitor Speed: It’s tempting to ride fast, as that’s what e-bikes do best, but busy streets and high traffic require more frequent stops and braking, so keep slower speeds when necessary and remember to give yourself plenty of time to brake. 

E-bikes add power to each pedal stroke, so it’ll take some more time to slow down or come to a complete stop. Watching traffic is even more crucial on an e-bike so that you can always be planning your next move. 

Careful Mounting/Dismounting: E-bikes weigh more than your traditional bicycle, so for smaller or older riders, this can make a big difference. Make sure you’re in a safe spot to mount or dismount, so that if it takes you a little extra time you don’t run into trouble. 

Maintenance: It might not seem like e-bike maintenance is a critical safety mechanism, but having a bike you can rely on on the road will keep you much safer. Check often that your tires are in good shape and inflated to the correct amount. Also check that the hardware around your wheels are in good working condition as well. Something as minor as a loose bolt could result in disaster. 

Finally, regularly check the motor, battery and other technical aspects of your bike and make sure that all is secured and working properly before hitting the road. A battery not adequately secured could mean you lose power while riding or it may become dislodged entirely. 

A quick run through of your e-bike before a ride could help you avoid a crash that could result in a serious injury.