Op-Ed: Safety Issues Involving E-Bikes Raise Questions

Suddenly, they’re here and darting round Suffolk roadways, mosquito-like: electric bikes
or e-bikes. Many I’ve seen are being operated by young teens, without helmets. The e-bikes themselves in New York State need no license plates, those who ride them no driver’s license.

Meanwhile, as is often the case when a new technology arrives, there are vested interests pushing a new product or process.

In Suffolk County, which has just been reported to have had the highest death toll in
traffic accidents of any county in the state last year –134 people killed–the police department on Shelter Island, where in 2021 a fatal accident occurred involving an e-bike, is moving to bring some order to the e-bike disorder.

The department has just run an ad in the Shelter Island Reporter headed “KNOW THE
LAW, ELECTRIC BIKES AND SCOOTERS.” It notes under a heading “MUST BE 16 YEARS OLD” that New York State “law states only persons 16 years and older can operate an e-bike.”

Further, under a heading “30 MPH OR LESS,” it notes that “NYS law states e-bikes cannot be operated on a roadway with a speed limit greater than 30 mph.”

How many roadways in Suffolk County—indeed anywhere—have speed limits of 30
miles per hour or less on extended stretches? The speed limits on most roads here and elsewhere are 35, and 40, or 45 and more miles per hour.

So what are e-bikes doing on these roads, period?

Detective/Sergeant Jack Thilberg of the Shelter Island Police Department told me last
week that its chief, James Read, because of “safety concerns” has launched a “public awareness and communications” initiative regarding laws covering e-bikes. This, said Thilberg, is preparatory to the department moving into “enforcement of the laws.”

“We had a fatality in August 2021 involving an e-bike,” said the detective sergeant, “and
we had a serious injury accident involving an e-bike this summer.”

Shelter Island is far from alone. “Teenagers’ Accidents Expose the Risks of E-Bikes,”
was the front-page headline of the July 1 st issue of The New York Times. The subhead: “A Booming Technology Is Outpacing Federal and State Laws.”

The article began by telling of how a 15-year-old boy in Encinitas, California had, while
riding an e-bike, been killed “in a terrible crash, the latest teenage victim of an e-bike accident.”

He “had been riding from home” on an “e-bike, a model made by Rad Power” with “a top
speed of 20 miles per hour, but his route took him on a busy road with a 55-mile-per hour limit.

While turning left, he was clipped by a Nissan van and thrown violently.”

“The e-bike industry is booming,” said the article, “but the summer of 2023 has brought
sharp questions about how safe e-bikes are, especially for teenagers.” It spoke of “risks,
especially for young, inexperienced riders merging into complex traffic with fast-moving cars and sometimes distracted drivers.”

“To some policymakers and law enforcement officials, the technology has far out-paced
existing laws, regulations and safety guidelines. Police and industry officials charge that some companies appear to knowingly sell products than can easily evade speed limits and endanger young riders,” said the piece. “Communities have begun to alert their residents to the dangers of e-bikes. In June, the police department in Bend, Ore., ran a public service campaign acquainting the public with the e-bike laws that were frequently broken there. Days later, a 15-year-old boy was killed when the e-bike he was riding was struck by a van…”

Meanwhile, the same day this article ran in The Times, Newsday ran a two-page spread
headlined: “East End easy riders, New e-bike tours to check out in the Hamptons and Montauk.”

The piece declared: “If you are heading out east this season, hit up on of these e-bike
companies that provide tours and rentals.” It provided details on various companies that rent e-bikes. It included quotes from Andy Morris of Hampton Bays who with his wife run Electric Bikes A Go Go which, the article pointed out, had just begun a “new tour” by e-bike “in Montauk.” The company already has a “Shelter Island Tour,” it noted. It also has a “Dune Road Ride to Breakfast Tour” between Hampton Bays and Quogue, and a “Sagaponack Sunset Tour.”

The article quoted Morris saying: “You are guaranteed to smile when you get on an e-
bike. Every time you ride, it’s like being on vacation.”

Not only are people being killed riding e-bikes, but the bikes’ power source, lithium-ion
batteries, have a record of exploding. In March, ABC News reported that in 2022 in New York City, 147 injuries and six deaths had resulted from e-bike battery fires. “So far in 2023, 33 fires, 42 injuries and three deaths have been attributed to these fires,” it said.

It quoted Mayor Eric Adams as saying: “E-bikes and e-scooters are here, you might as
well get used to them.”


Last week, a 93-year-old woman died in Ozone Park, Queens in a fire in a two-story
building that started by a lithium-ion battery exploding in an e-bike repair shop below where she lived.

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