Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone. But the bikes we learned on are very different from the bikes that are popular today. Electric bicycles are everywhere these days, and an increasing number of teenagers are using them.
It seems, however, that there is more risk and responsibility involved than manufacturers and lawmakers currently understand. With more and more kids zooming around on these e-bikes, it is important to understand what makes these mobility devices more dangerous than a traditional bicycle, and what to do if one of these machines malfunctions and injures you or your child.
What to know about today’s e-bikes
Unlike conventional bicycles, e-bikes offer riders a less strenuous experience. As People Powered Movement explains, “instead of pedaling, a rider can just sit on the seat and go along for the ride. Even pedal-assist bikes don’t require a lot of energy, as their engines kick in upon acceleration or while mounting hills.”
There are three distinct categories of electric bicycles:
- Class 1 bikes. These e-bikes can reach speeds of up to 20 mph and necessitate pedal assistance from the rider.
- Class 2 bikes. Similarly capable of reaching 20 mph, these e-bikes do not mandate rider pedaling; they can be operated with electric power alone.
- Class 3 bikes. These high-speed e-bikes can reach up to 28 mph and, like Class 2, do not require pedal input from the rider.
There are a lot of benefits to e-bikes, not the least of which is the speed. They also keep people out of cars, which has a nice “eco-friendly” ring to it, and they’re much less expensive than cars, too. So on the surface, riding an e-bike seems like a good idea.
What are Alabama’s laws on e-bikes?
In Alabama e-bikes are treated much like traditional bicycles, subject to the same rules when on the road. Additionally, Alabama employs the previously mentioned e-bike classification system to categorize these electric bikes.
E-bike regulations in Alabama include:
- Age restrictions. There is no age limit for riding class 1 and 2 e-bikes, but riders must be over 16 to operate a class 3 e-bike.
- Helmet requirements. Riders under 16 years old are required to wear a helmet while using any type of e-bike. Additionally, all riders must wear helmets when riding class 3 e-bikes.
- Riding on sidewalks. Riding e-bikes on sidewalks is permitted.
- Riding in bike lanes. E-bikes are allowed to use bike lanes.
- Registration. There is no requirement for e-bike registration.
- Licensing. No special license is needed to operate an e-bike.
- Insurance. There is no mandate for e-bike insurance.
The same restrictions used for traditional bicycles are also used for e-bikes, which means that pedestrians are at risk for being hit by a motorized mobility device going over 20 miles an hour down the sidewalk.
Why should parents be worried about e-bikes?
Bike accidents are common for kids. According to Stanford Medicine, “about 100 children are killed and 254,000 are injured as a result of bicycle-related accidents” each year. Over the past two decades, bike accidents have led to more than a million broken bones (mostly for 10- to 15-year-old boys), and collisions with vehicles have accounted for about 65,000 injuries.
Furthermore, those children are usually only traveling a few miles per hour. (The average for children just learning to ride is about 7.85 mph). A Class 1 or Class 2 bike can travel up to 20mph, and Alabama doesn’t have any laws restricting the age of riders. There’s an inherent risk just giving a child a bike like this. In fact, a 13-year-old child died in May after he lost control of his e-bike and was struck by a garbage truck on a highway.
Let’s assume, however, that your child is a little older and more experienced; you trust them to be able to handle the bike responsibly, so you give them a Class 2 – one that doesn’t require any pedaling at all. If your child is over the age of 16, there’s no helmet mandate. Nationwide Children’s Hospital reports that nine out of every 10 bike accident fatalities involve a rider without a helmet. The lack of mandatory regulation for helmets on any class of e-bike is foolish at best.
The danger of e-bike batteries
Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in e-bikes, can pose serious hazards if mishandled or damaged. These batteries have the potential to overheat, catch fire, emit toxic gasses, or even explode. According to AP News, “nationally, there were more than 200 battery-related fires reported to the commission — an obvious undercount — from 39 states over the past two years, including 19 deaths blamed on micromobility devices.”
To ensure e-bike battery safety, users must adhere to manufacturer instructions and avoid attempting to add extra batteries to their e-bikes for increased power or battery life. Each e-bike is designed to work with a specific battery, and adding additional ones can lead to problems.
Charging e-bike batteries should not be done overnight or in unmonitored settings, as these lithium-ion batteries must operate within a specific temperature range to remain safe. Exposure to extreme temperatures, such as leaving batteries in the sunlight or inside hot cars, can lead to overheating and potential hazards.
To prevent battery-related safety issues, users should follow manufacturer recommendations, store batteries safely, and avoid improper charging practices. Additionally, proper recycling of batteries and avoiding obstructing exits with micro-mobility devices like e-bikes can contribute to overall safety and prevent accidents leading to injuries or fatalities.
What injuries are caused by e-bike accidents?
Electric bicycle accidents, like any other form of transportation, can lead to a range of injuries. The specific injuries can vary in severity depending on factors such as the speed of the e-bike, the use of safety gear, and the nature of the accident.
Common injuries that can result from electric bicycle accidents include:
- Lacerations and abrasions. Superficial injuries like cuts, scrapes, and road rash can occur when a rider is thrown from the e-bike and makes contact with the road or other surfaces.
- Fractures. Accidents can lead to broken bones, including fractures of the arms, legs, wrists, and collarbones.
- Traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and head wounds are a significant concern if the rider isn’t wearing a helmet.
- Facial injuries. injuries to the face, including cuts, fractures, and dental damage, can occur if the rider’s face makes contact with the ground or an object during the accident.
- Spinal cord injuries. Falls or impacts can cause injuries to the spine, ranging from mild to severe, potentially leading to paralysis or long-term disability.
- Internal injuries. Blunt force trauma from an e-bike accident can damage internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, or kidneys.
- Amputations. Severe accidents involving e-bikes can lead to traumatic amputations of fingers, hands, or limbs if body parts get trapped or crushed.
- Burns. Electric bicycles have batteries, and accidents involving battery fires or chemical exposure can result in burns.
Protective gear, such as helmets, gloves, and appropriate clothing, can significantly reduce the risk of injury. Safe riding practices, adherence to traffic laws, and proper e-bike maintenance are also crucial in minimizing the likelihood of accidents and injuries. In the event of an e-bike accident, seeking prompt medical attention is essential to assess and address any injuries effectively.
If an electric bicycle caused you or your child harm – whether due to a defective battery or part, or due to someone else’s reckless operation – then you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney. At Martin & Helms, we are well aware of the risks these devices pose, and we know how to gather evidence, research possible defects, and argue your case effectively. While you focus on healing, we will deal with the complicated legal process, and ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys in Huntsville and Decatur, call us or use our contact page. We also proudly serve our clients in Madison, Athens, and all of North Alabama.