They are environmentally friendly, help you avoid traffic jams during the morning and evening commutes, and allow for long journeys with minimal effort. It therefore comes as no surprise that Israelis have jumped on the electric bicycle trend.
But for all its advantages, the trend that has taken over the country’s roads has come with a heavy and growing human cost. Of the 208 people killed on Israel’s roads since the turn of the year, 16 were riding electric bicycles.
Ari Nesher, the son of Israeli director Avi Nesher, became the latest and most high-profile electric bicycle victim when he died on Thursday, his 17th birthday, at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital after being hit by a drunk driver.
New figures published by the National Road Safety Authority on Thursday show a worrying increase in fatalities compared to previous years. In 2015, 15 regular cyclists and two electric bicycle riders were killed on Israel’s roads. In 2016, 10 cyclists and a further 10 electric bicycle riders were killed. Last year, 11 cyclists and 10 electric bike riders were victims of Israel’s roads. Of this year’s 16 victims, four were under the legally-required age of 16.
According to some estimates, there are now more than 250,000 electric bicycles in use across Israel. As the market continues to grow, the number of human casualties is likely to increase too.
According to current Israeli law, electric bicycles with power of up to 250W and a speed limit of 25 kph may be used by those aged 16 years or over. From the age of 18, helmets must only be worn while cycling in city areas. No license or insurance are required. It is prohibited to ride on the sidewalk and a throttle is only allowed to be used to start riding – up to 6 kph. It is forbidden to take a passenger on the bike.
Yet the reckless riding by many electric bicycle owners on the country’s roads has raised the ire of both road users and pedestrians who believe exist- ing measures are not being enforced. Combined with the rising death toll, the issue of Israel’s electric bicycles has caught the attention of the country’s lawmakers.
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had instructed his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz to work with the Transport Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry to evaluate possible courses of action to improve the safety of electric bicycle users.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein declared on Twitter on Sunday his intention to quickly advance legislation to increase law enforcement measures regarding e-bikes.
If lawmakers do take action to increase the safety of road users, they may seek guidance from other jurisdictions, which are seeking to catch up with the latest transport trend.
In the United States, legislative efforts have not kept pace with the growing popularity of electric bicycles. While they may be covered by some state legislation, 20 states have no laws pertaining to electric bicycles at all.
In April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio partially reversed his October 2017 decision to effectively ban electric bicycles from the city’s streets after complaints that his ruling harmed low-wage immigrant delivery workers and was a step backwards in terms of promoting cleaner transport options.
De Blasio’s new guidelines permit pedal-assist bicycles to be used on the city’s streets, which solely rely on a battery to boost speeds, but not throttle-only electric bicycles capable of traveling at speeds over 32 kph.
Proposed legislation published by the European Com- mission in May has sought to require users of electric bicycles, Segways and motorized scooters to take out third-party insurance.
The legislation, which is yet to go before the European Parliament and has been criticized by groups seeking to encourage cycling, may include an opt-out clause which would require countries choosing not to enforce the legislation to provide a fund to assist victims of electric bicycle accidents.
In Netherlands, where approximately one-third of bicycles sold are electric and where three-quarters of fatal electric bicycle accidents have involved men of 65 years or over, lawmakers moved in September to outlaw using mobile phones while cycling. The law will enter into force in July 2019.
Draft legislation is under review in Beijing, which would require electric bicycles riders to possess a license and a license plate number, with maximum e-bike speeds limited to 15 kph.
In Hong Kong, electric bicycles are not permitted in any public area and all kinds of pedal assist vehicles must be registered as motorcycles. As all electric bicycles available in the autonomous territory fail to meet the Hong Kong Transport Department’s regulatory motorcycle standards, they are effectively illegal.
In other countries, authorities are only starting to evaluate the options of legislation focusing on electric bicycles.
In September, 56-year-old Sakine Cihan became the first British pedestrian to die after being struck by an electric bicycle. In England, Scotland and Wales, it is permitted to ride an electric bicycle from 14 years old, without a license.
According to a Walla News investigation published on Sunday, at least six legislative proposals regarding electric bicycles were put forward during the Knesset’s summer session, but not a single one proceeded past the early-stage Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
Amid greater pressure to act and prevent further tragedies on Israel’s roads, the Knesset’s winter session is scheduled to get underway on October 15.