A Marin County supervisor and mother is sounding the alarm about the dangers of youth riding e-bikes after two trauma doctors alerted her to a concerning spike in injuries related to e-bikes since the Covid pandemic began.
Supervisor Mary Sackett commutes to work each day using her Class 1 e-bike, which provides power when pedaling. But it's the bike's sister model - the Class 2, with a throttle that provides power when not pedaling - she and local health officials are warning about its dangers.
"We are concerned about the Class 2 that we're seeing out on the market, especially with younger kids, that you don't have to pedal where they're throttle-assist and can be at higher speeds," Sackett told CBS News Bay Area.
She said she worries "about kids in those situations that don't have a lot of experience. Not only riding bikes, but also not as much experience with just the rules of the road."
New data shows the worry is warranted. According to the county health department from October 10th to November 10th this year the rate of e-bike-related accidents for youth ages 10 to 19 years old was nine times higher than similar accidents of people over 20 years old.
The report also showed that 22% of all 911 calls in the same period were for e-bike-related accidents and 71% of responses for all bike accidents among 10- to 19-year-olds were e-bike-related.
Sackett says after seeing the data, she's working on new regulations to limit the age of those who can ride Class 2 e-bikes.
"I think there's just a learning curve that comes with driving and some of these faster e-bikes with throttles are designed for dirt pathways, open space," she explained. "Putting kids into traffic who are used to you know, do you look left do you look right? Are people going to be backing out of their driveway? Some of those things that we learn as drivers learning it for the first time going over 20 miles an hour with a throttle is concerning."
Today, there are three classes of e-bikes. Class 1 is pedal-assisted and can hit speeds up to 20 mph. This is the model Sackett commutes with. Class 3 e-bikes require a rider 16 or older and can hit a top speed of 27 miles per hour. This class is what New Wheel Electric Bikes owner Karen Wiener uses to commute from Marin to San Francisco each day.
But it's the Class 2 e-bike both Wiener and Sackett are most concerned about.
"So many of these technologies are easily changed or manipulated by people so that suddenly they're not Class 2 anymore," Wiener explained. "They don't top out at 20 miles an hour. They don't have the same top wattage that a regular Class 2 bicycle would have and similarly, they're not always very safe."
Wiener says because of the power of the Class 2 and concerns with its breaking mechanisms, she doesn't carry the model in her store - she doesn't recommend an inexperienced rider or even driver to use one.
"I don't recommend Class 2 e-bikes at The New Wheel. We don't sell Class 2 e-bikes and we never have," said Wiener. "To me, they do not handle like regular bicycles. And they have major downsides around safety because they're often built to, like, the lowest kind of common denominator."
Wiener added, "So concerns around battery quality and brake technology are especially real, but also frame design and that sort of thing. So, no, is the short answer. I would not recommend a Class 2 bike for an inexperienced bicyclist."
Sackett, the mother of a teenager, says while the bikes are a game-changing tool for freedom and mobility, class two e-bikes are too easily used improperly.
"They're really not designed for our streets and roads, let alone at those speeds with the younger riders," said Sackett. " We hope that we will decrease the amount of head injuries."
It all comes down to equipping teens with the tools for success.
"What we can do is set them up with the safest opportunity and hope they make the right decisions," she explained.
In partnership with Assemblymember Damon Connolly, Sackett says she hopes to have her amendment raising the age requirement to ride Class 2 e-bikes to 16 ready for a vote by the first of the year.
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