Marin Voice: Supervisor teams up to put focus on safe e-bike behaviors
By Mary Sackett and Dr. Heyman Oo | Marin Independent Journal | December 14, 2023 at 2:20 p.m.
Electric-assist bicycles are a great way to get people out of cars, exercise, and to help our kids build a sense of independence. Riding a bike takes skill and experience, it is something you develop over time and most of us pick up a few cuts and bruises along the way. When you add pedal assist or a throttle increasing speed, you are simultaneously escalating the risk and potential severity of consequences.
Pediatricians and trauma surgeons are increasingly concerned about the rise of e-bike accidents, particularly among 10- to 19-year-olds. The leading cause of death for children under 14 are accidents and unintentional injuries. It is not an exaggeration to say that when you give a 12-year-old the functional equivalent of a mini-motorcycle, tragic outcomes are unsurprising.
Thankfully, many severe injuries are avoidable with some reasonable safety precautions and common sense. The message is simple: wear a helmet, do not carry passengers, and Class 1 e-bikes are the best choice.
Marin County Public Health has created a Marin County bicycle safety data dashboard to track e-bike related 911 responses. Data tracking began in early October 2023, and results will help guide our local policy. In the first 50 days of data collection, emergency medical services responded to 51 bike accidents countywide and 25% of these were e-bike related. For school-aged youth 10 to 19 years old, 80% of accidents involved e-bikes.
Notably, our emergency department doctors report that many e-bike injuries are not just bumps and scrapes expected from falling off a regular bike. Instead, they often resemble the injuries sustained during a high-speed collision—including damage to internal organs — like those that occur during a motorcycle accident.
Different classes of e-bikes have various capabilities and restrictions. There are motorized bikes on the market without pedals and/or with an electric motor greater than 750 watts which are not, by definition, e-bikes. Motorized bikes are not permitted in bike lanes or on multi-use paths and are illegal for those under 16 years of age.
We are working with Assemblymember Damon Connolly to seek an amendment to state law that would add Class 2 e-bikes (e-bikes with a throttle) to the California Vehicle Code’s Section 21213, which prohibits a person under 16 years of age from riding a Class 3 e-bike. The Marin County Public Health, Marin County law enforcement agencies, the Marin County Office of Education, Marin Safe Routes to Schools, trauma surgeons, pediatricians, transportation leaders and community partners are working together to bolster education and enforcement on existing laws like helmet use and the number of passengers.
There are resources available to help understand the different classes of e-bikes and the rules of the road. Marin Safe Routes to Schools has resources available for parents and students. The California Highway Patrol offers an online e-bike safety training program. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition has an e-bike buyers’ guide and education opportunities.
Riding a conventional bike or an appropriate e-bike is encouraged. We want to see more people outdoors and on bikes for their health and enjoyment. Both day and night, lights and reflectors improve visibility for all bikers when sharing the road with drivers. A front white light, a rear red light or reflector and white or yellow reflectors on the pedals are required by California law.
All road users are responsible for ensuring safety on our streets. Closing gaps in our bike and pedestrian paths and lanes is an ongoing priority.
During this gift-giving season, we want to encourage everyone to do their homework. If choosing to buy an e-bike, there are safety measures and laws for riders of all ages to be aware of: Wear a helmet, do not carry passengers and, if you are planning on buying an e-bike, Class 1 e-bikes are the best choice – especially for those under 18 years old.
Marin County Supervisor Mary Sackett represents District 1. Dr. Heyman Oo is a primary care pediatrician in Marin County and president of the San Francisco Marin Medical Society.