A man rides an electric bicycle, also known as an e-bike, in downtown Milan, Italy, May 18, 2018..
(photo credit: STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS)
The death last week of 17-year-old Ari Nesher, son of filmmaker Avi Nesher and a rising talent in his own right, propelled the dangers of electric bicycles to the headlines. The fact that Nesher, who was riding an electric bike with a friend in Tel Aviv, was hit by a well-known soccer player allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol helped turn the incident into a major news story.
It shouldn’t have taken Ari Nesher’s death to gain attention. As happens all too often in Israel, safety issues are not treated as seriously as security issues, even if they are no less lethal.
Nesher was the 16th person killed while riding an electric bike this year. According to data from the Or Yarok (Green Light) road safety NGO, the number of accidents involving electric bicycles rose from 692 in 2014 to 2,185 in 2017, with 252 suffering serious injuries. A third of the injured were children and youths.
Naturally, the hazards posed by incorrect use of electric bikes also affect pedestrians – particularly the elderly, the very young and people pushing strollers.
In the past decade, electric bikes and scooters have grown ever more popular, which is understandable as they provide a relatively cheap, fast and environmentally friendly alternative to private vehicles. However, it must not be forgotten that these, too, are vehicles, and as with cars and motorbikes, speed kills as does ignoring the existing regulations, rules of road safety and, yes, common courtesy.
Anyone who has driven on Israeli roads and any pedestrian is aware that there is a huge lack of both courtesy and common sense with disastrous effects.
In the past, most of those injured in accidents involving electric bikes were pedestrians hit by bikers riding on sidewalks. This led to the regulation that electric bikes have to stick to either dedicated bike paths, or where these don’t exist, to the roads. The fines, however, are not much of a deterrent, standing at some NIS 100-NIS 200. In addition, it is clear that many local authorities have not considered the creation of bicycle paths to be a high priority.
More seriously, where the riders have been forced into the road, they are more at risk from larger motorized vehicles. This is especially true for youths too young for a driving license who have not yet learned basic road safety laws: permitted speed, the meaning of road signs and how to approach traffic lights and traffic circles.
In theory, electric bicycles cannot be purchased or used by those under the age of 16, but all too often parents give in to requests and it is not rare for children to receive electric bikes as a bar or bat mitzvah present. Too many parents only realize their mistake and responsibility once it’s too late.
Many are now stressing that electric bicycles and scooters should be considered the equivalent of motorbikes and subject to the same laws and regulations.
The Transportation Ministry is reportedly drawing up a new program to tackle the problem. According to a Maariv report, this would include requiring 16-year-old would-be electric bike riders to undergo a course and take an exam. Those caught riding underage would have the age that they would have been able to take a regular driving test postponed and their electric bikes confiscated.
There would be a NIS 10,000 fine for those selling electric bikes to those underage or tampering with a bike to enable it to exceed the permitted speed of 25 km/h.
But regulations are only as good as their enforcement.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz is also working with the National Road Safety Authority to integrate the subject of electric bicycles and road safety into high school curricula.
In addition, there needs to be more public safety campaigns. By law, those under the age of 18 must wear helmets, but many teens are more concerned about how they look. Top model Shlomit Malka participated in a campaign emphasizing that there is nothing “uncool” about wearing a helmet, using not only her fame but also her experience as someone who suffered from a well-publicized near-fatal accident when she fell from her electric scooter.
The Nesher family donated Ari’s organs which saved the lives of five people. Using his death to raise awareness of the dangers of electric bicycles could save even more lives.