Are Electric Bikes Safe? What Are the Risks?

As popularity grows, safety is a growing concern

Are electric bicycles safe?

As popularity grows, safety is a growing concern

Electric bicycles have become popular as a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around. However, with their increasing presence on roads and bike paths concerns about their safety have also grown. Are e-bikes safe? What are the risks?

Studies based on hospital data show accidents with e-bikes have risen in recent years. States and cities have rushed to action to improve e-bike safety with education and training programs. Scripps is an active participant in these efforts.

Trauma surgeons have also voiced concerns about e-bikes, based on what they've seen at their hospitals.

“We see a combination of head injury, orthopedic injuries and fractures, spine fractures, road rash and abrasions to the skin. It’s not exclusive to e-bikes, but anecdotally, it does seem we are seeing more cases because there is a larger volume of e-bikes,” says Vishal Bansal, MD, director of trauma surgery at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.

What do e-bike accident statistics show?

There is a growing amount of data to support concerns about the safety of e-bikes.

Hospitals reported treating 53,200 e-bike-related injuries from 2017 to 2022. Injuries increased from 3,500 in 2017 to 24,400 in 2022, according to a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The study looked at injuries and deaths caused by micromobility devices, specifically e-bikes, e-scooters and hoverboards.

The study, analyzing data from 2017-2022, found:

  • 360,800 injuries from micromobility devices, with a yearly increase of 23%.
  • E-scooters and hoverboards were involved in 169,300 and 138,400 injuries, respectively.
  • Almost half of e-bike injuries during the six-year period studied happened in 2022.
  • 233 deaths related to micromobility device. The number of deaths rose from 5 in 2017 to 76 in 2022.

Trauma surgeons at Scripps have also raised concern about the risks of e-scooters and have stressed the need for caution to avoid injuries.

E-bikes vs regular bikes

Safety experts caution that without proper education and training, e-bike users face a greater risk of injury or death in accidents.

E-bikes are heavier and faster than regular bikes and can go faster due to their battery power. This makes them more dangerous than regular bicycles.

“They can go much faster, and this may create risk for hitting pedestrians who can’t get out of the way in time, or with motor vehicles, whose drivers do not anticipate a bike moving so fast,” says Walter Biffl, MD, trauma medical director at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and a trauma surgeon at Scripps Clinic. “There’s also more momentum and the stopping distance will be much greater.”

How fast are e-bikes?

Bike companies made a system for electric bikes with three levels based on motor assistance and top speed. Many states use these levels in their rules. Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes have a maximum speed of 20 mph. Class 3 e-bikes, on the other hand, can reach speeds of up to 28 mph.

In most states, riders under 16 can use Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes, while riders of Class 3 e-bikes must be 16 or older. In California, Class 3 e-bikers must be 16 or older, wear a safety helmet and not transport passengers. They may ride in a bicycle lane if authorized by local authority or ordinance.

E-bike road rules

Dr. Bansal stresses the importance of adhering to traffic rules and safety precautions when riding an e-bike.

“If you are at all intoxicated or concerned about a situation — such as the weather — those are times you should not be on an e-bike,” he says.

E-bike riders must follow traffic laws, avoid riding on sidewalks, and use appropriate safety gear, including helmets.

E-bike safety education and training

If you plan to use these devices, seek assistance from experienced riders. They can help you improve your skills and confidence on the road or bike paths.

The California Highway Patrol has an online program to teach people of all ages how to safely ride e-bikes. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition also offers e-bike education and training. Scripps helps educate the community about e-bikes too.

In California, over 9,600 bike crashes happened in 2022, with 225 involving e-bikes. Four of these crashes were deadly.

Experts advise buying e-bikes that meet safety standards and being careful with charging and using lithium-ion batteries. To prevent accidents and injuries, it is also crucial to properly maintain e-bikes. 

Are e-bikes good for exercise?

The choice between e-bikes and traditional bicycles for exercise depends on personal preferences, fitness goals, and individual circumstances.

E-bikes can make exercising easier for many people. They provide a less tiring alternative to cycling. Additionally, they allow people to enjoy the health benefits of cycling.

The health benefits vary, based on the individual. “They could be a viable form of exercise, as long as there’s a significant amount of pedal power versus e-assist,” Dr. Biffl says.

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