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2 On Your Side: Orange County Sees Spike In E-Bike Accidents

MISSION VIEJO (CBSLA) — As they continue to grow in popularity, an Orange County hospital is reporting a 500% increase in electric bike accidents compared to this time last year.

E-bikes popularity grows
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - APRIL 06: A man rides an electric bicycle near the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The city council on Monday, April 5, voted unanimously to strike a previous ban on e-bikes put in place in 2017, before the recent surge in popularity.(Photo by Paul Bersebach/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

From January to August 2020, Providence Mission Hospital Mission Viejo treated 11 e-bike trauma patients. During that same time period this year, that number jumped to 70. In 2020, only one of their e-bike accident patients were children. In 2021, that number jumped to 22.

"The first thing he remembered was seeing himself tangled up in his bike and seeing his femur wrapped around his handlebar," mother Nicole Mordock told CBS2's Kristine Lazar.

Mordock's 15-year-old son snapped his femur in half after he was coming down a hill in San Clemente on his e-bike, lost control and collided with a street sign. He was rushed into surgery at Mission Hospital.

"They had to try to avoid his growth plates, so they put a titanium rod in his hip all the way to the bottom of his femur and then two screws at the bottom and two screws at the top," Mordock said.

"The most common injuries are broken bones, arms and legs, followed by head injuries, followed by internal organ injuries," Dr. Tetsuya Takeuchi, a trauma surgeon at Mission Hospital, told Lazar.

Mission Hospital reports that about 45% of its e-bike accident patients were not wearing helmets, and the majority had severe injuries.

"In the last two weeks, we had two high grade liver injuries in teenagers on e-bikes," Takeuchi said.

Jennifer Fitzpatrick was injured riding an e-bike almost three years ago. She says she was not able to slow the bike down and veered onto the sidewalk to avoid riding into oncoming traffic.

My helmet was shattered," Fitzpatrick said. "My optic nerve was interrupted. I spent a year doing physical and occupational therapy."

"Gosh, the amount of growth we've seen in accidents, and specifically catastrophic injuries related to e-bikes, is steadily on the rise," said Steve Rosen, owner of Bike Legal Law Firm.

Rosen says many of his clients treated e-bikes as they would traditional bicycles.

"I think people mistakenly believe that e-bikes are just like any bicycle," Rosen said. "'I am just getting on a bike. I am going to ride it like I have since I was 4-years-old.' It's not. It's more akin to a motorcycle or mopeds we used to have."

E-bikes can go up to 28 miles-per-hour. Safety experts say too many people are getting on e-bikes without the proper training on how to safely use them, or how to obey the rules of the road.

In September, a 36-year-old mother died, and her two young children were seriously injured, when she crashed an e-bike on a trail in San Juan Capistrano.

A couple of weeks earlier, a former Corona Del Mar High School baseball coach suffered a severe head injury while riding an e-bike. He died days later.

The fastest class of e-bikes are only to be ridden by those 16 and up. And all riders under 18 using any type of e-bike must wear a helmet. Riders don't need insurance or a license to ride an e-bike, however.

"30 years in the business, I have never seen a cycling category grow this fast," said Matt Ford, owner of the bike shop chain Rock N Road Cyclery, which has several O.C. locations.

Ford believes there is a place for e-bikes, as long as they are used responsibly.

"Wearing helmets, understanding how to use the bike before they go home, a lot of people can buy e-bikes via the internet and never really learn how to use it properly," Ford said. "I think power is addictive and very fun. It's just, learning how to use it in a proper way is critical."

Earlier this month, safety advocates, including the O.C. Sheriff's Department, hosted an informational meeting on e-bike safety.

Safety experts say everyone should wear a helmet. They say riders may even consider a motorcycle helmet, which offers more protection than a traditional bike helmet. They also say it is best to buy the bike in person, so the bike shop can teach you how to properly use the bike. And although e-bikes can only go up to 28 mph, they can easily pick up even more speed when going downhill, so you'll want to consider your route and speed before you get on the bike.

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