So, just how dangerous are e-bikes?
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, from 2017 to 2020, e-bike injuries have increased by 70%. Furthermore, a recent study led by Charles DiMaggio found that e-bikes were "E-bike-related injuries were more than three times more likely to involve a collision with a pedestrian than either pedal bicycles or powered scooters."
Common e-bike injuries can range from minor to fatal, including internal injuries, concussions, broken bones, shoulder and knee tears, and neck and back injuries.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission separates e-bike related injuries into mechanical, electrical, and human factors.
Currently, there's a growing concern over electrical issues with e-bikes.
From apartment buildings going up in flames in New York City to a battery ablaze in Newport Beach, California, electrical problems are a growing concern over the safety of e-bikes.
That's because the lithium that powers the bike is highly combustible. So referring to the owner's manual is paramount when you own an e-bike. The importance of understanding how to store and charge your e-bike cannot be understated.
Another substantial fire risk for a lithium battery is a low-quality one. Since the pandemic, online sales of e-bikes have skyrocketed. That's great for consumer convenience, but it also puts consumers at risk of buying a poorly made and danger-prone product. One of the best ways to avoid an e-bike fire is to buy a bike from a reputable manufacturer.
A recent study led by Charles DiMaggio and published in Injury Prevention shows a national trend toward declining pedal bike injuries. However, DiMaggio's research also illustrates a spike in e-bike injuries.
While the study's data doesn't indicate why e-bike injuries are on the rise, DiMaggio himself suggests that the increased speed is likely a factor.
It's a logical conclusion to make.
Typically pedal bikes top off at ten miles per hour. Compare that to a Class I or II electric bike where the engine tops out at 20 miles per hour.
That's double the speed of a traditional pedal bicycle.
A Class III electric bike is even faster, topping out at around twenty-eight miles per hour.
More speed means more convenience for the consumer. Unfortunately, faster e-bikes increase the risk of injuries and the odds of requiring hospitalization.
In an interview with KCAL9, Dr. Tetsuya Takeuchi, a trauma director at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, compares electric bike injuries more to a motorcycle crash than typical bike accidents.
DiMaggio agrees, concluding, "We know that e-bikes can go faster than traditional pedal cycles," DiMaggio says. "And we know that speed often results in more severe injuries.
In San Diego County, teachers have resigned themselves to the new reality of students riding e-bikes to school.
Currently, the State of California does not require licenses to ride e-bikes. Nor does the state necessitate e-bike riders to be insured.
While a rider must be at least 16 years old to legally ride a Class III e-bike, there are no age requirements for Class I and II e-bikes. The lack of age restrictions makes e-bikes especially appealing to school-age children.
While students view e-bikes as a mode of transportation and freedom from their parents, teachers and staff have a growing safety concern. After all, the lack of regulations often translates into a lack of education. Students who ride e-bikes are often not aware of the rules of the road, which can cause severe accidents.
For one San Diego County school, safety is the number one priority. Faculty saw such a staggering increase in students riding e-bikes this year that they made a mandatory e-bike safety class.
So again, we come back to the question, why are electric bikes so dangerous?
Simply put, e-bikes are so dangerous because they are new.
Consider the mass production of the automobile and the years of regulation and education that legislation has adapted to ensure consumer safety.
While motorized bicycles are not new technology, advancements in lithium batteries have made them cheaper, lighter, and more accessible to consumers.
Unfortunately, legislation moves at a snail's pace, and city leaders can't make laws fast enough to keep up with the growing number of e-bikes out on the streets.
In short, the infrastructure, regulations, and education that are all needed to support the safety of riders and other citizens don't exist yet.