New California bill seeks to ban kids from riding e-bikes

E-bikes would be banned for children 12 and under; those over 12 would be required to complete a written test and get an ‘e-bike license’

Kids riding the Woom Now e-bike
(Image credit: Woom)

Also read: Should kids ride e-bikes?

A new bill proposed by California Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner aims to ban e-bike riding for children under the age of 12.

The bill further suggests that children who are at least 12 or older and do not hold a driver’s license should have to complete an online course and a written test to obtain an ‘e-bike license’ in order to operate and ride e-bikes. 

This bill comes as a response to an uptick in e-bike purchases nation-wide and resulting e-bike related injuries. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System notes that there were 3,945 e-bike injuries between 2011 and 2020, with 44% of those injuries occurring in the 10-13 age group. Children under the age of 14 constituted 72% of e-bike injuries across the entire study period. 

A similar bill was proposed last year - Assembly Bill 530 - but failed to gain traction. Time will tell if the new bill by Assemblywoman Boerner progresses further. 

E-bikes have become a popular way for children and teens to get around without needing to borrow the family car. E-bikes are in many cases cheaper than cars, don’t require gas to operate and don’t hit the same top-end speeds as cars (although some e-bikes can reach nearly 30 miles per hour). Still, e-bikes pose dangers of their own. 

In 2021, a 12-year-old girl was injured and ultimately died as a result of her injuries sustained when a Rad Power Bikes e-bike on which she was a passenger “gained tremendous speed and started shaking” as the bike descended down a hill. The front wheel began to wobble and the two girls on the bike crashed, with one of them passing away from her sustained brain injuries.

The girl’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rad Power Bikes, claiming that flaws in the bike’s design made it difficult for riders to slow down and stop when descending hills. The lawsuit also claimed that Rad Power Bikes inappropriately marketed its e-bikes to children while failing to adequately warn children about the dangers of operating e-bikes. 

Rad Power Bikes noted that the manual for the RadRunner e-bike, on which the girl was riding, does say that that particular bike is only designed for people 18 and older and that many of their bikes are labeled as not for use by people 4 feet 11 inches and shorter. 

The parents in response claimed that those warnings were difficult to find and not prominent enough. 

Assemblywoman Boerner’s bill aims to limit tragic accidents such as the RadRunner incident, and her idea isn’t new. Other countries have already put e-bike licenses into law. 

Israel implemented e-bike drivers licenses in 2019 - making e-bike riding only legal for those aged 15.5 years and up and who have an e-bike license. 

In order to obtain one of these e-bike licenses, Israeli citizens must complete a 30-question written exam about traffic laws, bicycle safety and pedestrian rights, according to The Times of Israel

The e-bike license was introduced as a direct response to the increasing numbers of teenagers riding e-bikes in Israel, according to its Transportation Ministry. New fines for acts such as not wearing a helmet while riding an e-bike, e-biking while drunk or using a cellphone or for riding through a red light were also introduced in 2019.

“Owning and riding an e-bike is a big responsibility, and it is crucial that children and their parents understand the liability they take on when they get on an e-bike that can go nearly 30 miles per hour,” said Assemblymember Tasha Boerner. “As an avid cyclist and a mother, my goal is to ensure that California’s young riders are educated on the rules of the road to increase their safety and the safety of other road users.”

The bill may be heard in committee on March 10, 2024 to determine if it moves forward towards becoming a law.

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