Picture this: It was a typical Thursday evening in late June, and Clarissa Champlain received some shocking news. Her 15-year-old son, Brodee, had been involved in a dreadful accident – just another unfortunate teen caught up in an e-bike mishap.
Brodee had been on his way to his shot-putting practice, cruising on his Rad Power e-bike, capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour. However, his route took him along a busy road with a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. As he made a left turn, a Nissan van clipped him, sending him sprawling.
Imagine Clarissa’s frantic rush to the hospital, only to be met with a heartbreaking sight in Brodee’s room. She could see the marks left by the chin strap of his bike helmet. “I went to grab his head and kiss him,” she recalled, “But there was no back of his head. It wasn’t the skull, it was just mush.”
A mere three days later, another teenage boy found himself in the same hospital after his e-bike collided with a car, leaving him battered but alive. The town of Encinitas, where both incidents occurred, declared a state of emergency for e-bike safety.
Now, let’s talk about the e-bike industry. It’s booming, no doubt, but the summer of 2023 has cast a shadow of doubt on its safety, especially when it comes to teenagers. Many e-bikes can exceed the 20-mile-per-hour speed limit set for teenagers in most states, with some pushing speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. Even when ridden within legal speed limits, there are inherent risks, particularly for young and inexperienced riders attempting to navigate traffic with cars.
“The speed they are going is too fast for sidewalks, but it’s too slow to be in traffic,” said Jeremy Collis, a sergeant at the North Coastal Station of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, who is investigating Brodee’s accident.
To some, the technology has sprinted ahead of existing laws and safety regulations. Police and industry officials accuse some companies of knowingly selling products that can easily bypass speed limits, putting young riders at risk.
“It’s not like a bicycle,” Sergeant Collis emphasized, “But the laws are treating it like any bicycle.”
Meanwhile, federal agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are scrambling to figure out how to oversee e-bike safety effectively.
Communities are raising red flags about the dangers of e-bikes. In June, the police department in Bend, Oregon, launched a public service campaign to educate the public about e-bike laws being frequently broken there. Tragically, a 15-year-old boy lost his life just days later when his e-bike was struck by a van.
Sheila Miller, who spearheaded the campaign, stressed the importance of distinguishing what qualifies as a safe e-bike, especially for minors. In Oregon, the law is more restrictive than in most states, requiring individuals to be at least 16 to ride any e-bike.
Parents, she implored, shouldn’t buy these bikes for kids who aren’t legally allowed to ride them. And if you own an e-bike, ensure everyone using it understands the rules of the road.
Now, let’s delve into e-bikes a bit. The typical e-bike boasts functioning pedals and an electric motor, which can be recharged. You can use the pedals and the motor independently or simultaneously. Unlike combustion engines, electric motors provide instant acceleration, making e-bikes an attractive choice for riders.
E-bikes are also seen as a crucial part of transitioning away from cars, reducing emissions and traffic congestion. They’re part of the so-called micromobility movement, offering efficient transportation for short distances in crowded spaces.
The actual number of e-bikes being sold is unclear because, like regular bicycles, they don’t require government registration. Many are sold directly to consumers online, rather than through brick-and-mortar retailers, making tracking sales a challenge. But estimates suggest that roughly one million e-bikes will be sold in the United States this year.
The minimal regulation around e-bikes is a selling point for the industry. Some companies even boldly advertise “RIDE WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS. No license, registration, or insurance required.”
Yet, law enforcement officials have legitimate concerns about the minimal training required for teenage e-bike owners and their behavior. Teenage drivers aged 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be killed in a crash compared to those 20 or older, and young bicyclists have the highest rate of ER visits for crashes. Some states have begun to tighten training requirements for young drivers, including implementing graduated license programs.
In California, legislation is under consideration to prohibit e-bike use by those under 12 and establish an e-bike license program with an online written test and state-issued photo identification for those without a valid driver’s license.
E-bikes undoubtedly have the potential to revolutionize transportation, especially for students and families, offering cost-effective options. However, the challenge lies in ensuring that inexperienced e-cyclists and unaware car drivers share the road safely.
This challenge is amplified by the proliferation of noncompliant e-bikes in the market. Some of these products can go faster than the law allows or can be modified to do so. For instance, Sur-Ron, a brand known for its speedy models, has been associated with several recent deaths.
In Cardiff, Wales, two boys on a Sur-Ron bike died in a crash while being followed by the police. A boy in Greater Manchester riding a Sur-Ron also met a tragic end after colliding with an ambulance. Sur-Ron’s marketing touts its Light Bee Electric Bike as easy to maneuver like a bicycle but with the power of an off-road motorcycle. However, it can easily be modified to reach speeds far beyond legal limits.
Law enforcement officials have noted a trend of users “jailbreaking” their Sur-Ron bikes to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Concerns are growing about the lack of resources at the federal level to investigate and address e-mobility products that may actually be motor vehicles.
The tragedy in Encinitas serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address these issues. As Brodee’s family played his favorite music at his bedside, trying to wake up his brain, they couldn’t help but wonder if more education for drivers and stricter regulations could have prevented this heartbreaking loss.
The bottom line is that e-bikes have the potential to transform transportation, but their risks and the challenges they pose to safety cannot be ignored. The rules of the road need to catch up with the pace of innovation, and a shared responsibility for safe coexistence between e-bikes and traditional vehicles needs to be established.
Absolutely, let’s continue in English.
In the wake of this tragic incident, Brodee’s family sat by his bedside, their hearts heavy with grief. They played his favorite music, including tracks from Kendrick Lamar and early Wu-Tang Clan, hoping to stir some response in him. Clarissa Champlain, Brodee’s mother, read to him for hours, desperately wishing to see her son’s bright spirit shine through again. Brodee was more than just another statistic; he was a beloved young man with a promising future. Fluent in Spanish and possessing a college-level understanding of Japanese, he had impressive strength, lifting 300 pounds. In 2020, he was even named student of the year at his high school.
Yet, despite doing everything right, signaling to make a left turn and following the rules, Brodee’s life was tragically cut short. As his mother puts it, “There should be more education for drivers with the change that’s happened. I’d never seen an e-bike on the road until three years ago. Now I see hundreds. They’re treated like bicycles when they’re not. They’re not equal.”
The grief and loss that the Champlain family endured serve as a poignant reminder of the pressing need for action in addressing the safety issues surrounding e-bikes, especially when it comes to young and inexperienced riders.
E-bikes hold enormous potential in redefining urban transportation, offering a cleaner, more efficient, and sustainable mode of getting around. Rachel Hultin, the policy and governmental affairs director for Bicycle Colorado, believes e-bikes can be a game-changer, particularly for middle and high school students, offering them more transportation options at a lower cost. However, she, like many others, worries that the unregulated proliferation of e-bikes, especially among young riders, could lead to a dangerous mix of untrained e-cyclists and unaware car drivers.
This problem is further exacerbated by the presence of noncompliant e-bikes in the market. Some products, like those from Sur-Ron, are designed to be faster than allowed by law, or they can be easily modified to reach dangerous speeds, well beyond what was originally intended. The risks are evident, as recent incidents involving Sur-Ron bikes resulted in tragic accidents and even deaths. It’s clear that the industry needs stricter regulation to prevent such occurrences and ensure the safety of riders.
The challenge lies in finding a balance. E-bikes offer a promising solution for sustainable urban mobility, but their use, especially among young riders, must be subject to appropriate safety measures and regulations. This includes comprehensive education for both e-bike riders and drivers of traditional vehicles, as well as stricter controls on the design and sale of e-bikes. It’s a complex issue, but one that must be addressed urgently to prevent more heart-wrenching stories like Brodee’s and protect the safety of riders on our roads.
As we move forward, it’s clear that the e-bike industry must adapt and evolve in tandem with the changing landscape of transportation. Achieving this balance will not only save lives but also help us embrace the potential of e-bikes to reshape the way we get around our communities, making them more sustainable and efficient. It’s a future we should strive for, but it’s a future that must also be safe for all, regardless of age or experience.