There is a notable problem in recent concerns over e-bike safety. No story highlights this better than a recent tragic incident involving a 15-year-old from Encinitas, California, named Brodee Champlain Kingman.
Last June, Kingman was fatally struck by a driver while riding his e-bike. This, along with another accident involving a teenager on an e-bike, prompted Encinitas to declare a state of emergency. The blame for the accidents was placed on the growing presence of e-bikes on the streets.
However, it’s important to emphasize that the majority of collisions, injuries, and fatalities involve car drivers hitting bike riders. Unfortunately, this is not always evident in news articles or official reports.
The focus on the safety of young e-bike riders can overshadow the larger crisis: drivers, not cyclists, are causing California’s e-bike accidents.
Encinitas’s Unreasonable Response
So what is Encinitas doing in response to this emergency? The city has initiated a public education campaign through yard signs and electronic billboards, aiming to raise awareness about traffic safety matters.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is stopping e-bike riders for violations and enforcing mandatory education or fines. In an upcoming meeting, city officials will also consider potential safety improvements to local streets.
The emergency resolution by officials mentions an increase in collisions involving bikes and e-bikes in each of the past three years. However, it fails to highlight how many of these collisions involve cars.
According to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, there were 86 crashes involving e-bikes from the start of 2020 to the end of July 2023. The vast majority of these crashes, approximately 88%, also involved a car or truck.
If our objective is to comprehend the factors that contribute to dangerous streets, we must scrutinize the role of cars. The transportation system, which prioritizes the movement of cars at high speeds, poses the greatest risk to bike riders, pedestrians, and all road users. The consequences resulting from this system are undeniably evident.
Given the increasing number of collisions involving e-bikes, how does declaring a state of emergency stack up?
E-Bikes Are An Easy Target
There has been significant media attention given to e-bikes and robotaxis as we strive to comprehend their potential, both positive and negative. Concerns about electric scooters similarly captured our interest before the pandemic. However, as government officials established regulations, the coverage of the chaos they caused in cities gradually faded.
It’s often easier to focus on the unfamiliar rather than scrutinize the hazardous machines that have been in use for over a century. In the United States, 42,000 people died in car crashes last year.
In California alone, an average of nearly 3,700 people have died in car crashes each year for the past five years. This is approximately 10 individuals per day.
Jared Sanchez, the policy director for the nonprofit bicycle organization CalBike, shared that his small yet growing group of bicycle advocates generally supports the idea of providing better education for bike riders.
However, Sanchez is worried that the emphasis on safety, especially when it comes to children, can end up placing blame on the victims. The emphasis on safety could also spark opposition to the increasing adoption of e-bikes as an alternative to car travel.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sanchez stated, “The more [bikes] we have on the road, I think the safer folks will be. The infrastructure and the funding will follow.”