Ministries play electric bike blame game

Katz says need for increased enforcement while Erdan calls for special licensing process.

Electric bicyclists use a bike path on Ibn Gvirol, Tel Aviv on Tuesday. A study by NGO Or Yarok  in 114 local councils found bike lanes in only 18% of the areas surveyed.  (photo credit: TAMARA ZIEVE)
Electric bicyclists use a bike path on Ibn Gvirol, Tel Aviv on Tuesday. A study by NGO Or Yarok in 114 local councils found bike lanes in only 18% of the areas surveyed.
(photo credit: TAMARA ZIEVE)
The Public Security and Transportation ministries pointed fingers at each other this week, blaming a lack of a licensing process and poor law enforcement for the high number of accidents involving electric bicycles.
“The Transportation and Road Safety Ministry has to establish a shortened licensing process, including a basic knowledge of the rules of traffic for users of these vehicles,” the Public Security Ministry said.
The subject was highlighted by the tragic death on September 24 of 17-year-old Ari Nesher – the son of well-known film director Avi Nesher. The young Nesher died after he and his friend were struck by a car in a hit-and-run accident while riding electric bicycles in Tel Aviv.
“Electric cyclists ride in between hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, buses and more on Israel’s roads and have to know and recognize traffic signs, traffic laws and necessary rules of conduct on the road,” the Public Security Ministry statement said. “Unfortunately, no such obligation has been set for those who ride these vehicles, despite the massive increase in their numbers, of which many of their drivers have no driving license and no knowledge of the traffic laws.”
The statement came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday instructed his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, to work with the Transportation, Public Security and Justice ministries to evaluate possible actions to improve the safety of electric bikes.
Figures published by the National Road Safety Authority last week showed a significant increase in fatalities compared to previous years. Of the 208 people killed on Israel’s roads since the turn of the year, 16 were riding electric bicycles, and four of them were under the legally required age of 16.
In 2015, 15 cyclists on regular bikes and two on electric bikes were killed in Israel. In 2016, 10 regular cyclists and 10 electric-bike riders died in such accidents. In 2017, 11 regular cyclists and 10 electric-bike riders were killed.
“In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in enforcement against illegal riding on electric bicycles and there has been an increase of at least 70% in the enforcement against these offenses only by the Israel Police,” the ministry statement said. “Furthermore, at the initiative of [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan, a law was passed enabling local authorities to register traffic reports on this matter, which led to a significant increase in enforcement against illegal riding in the area.”
“The main problem with the riding of electric bicycles is not lack of enforcement, the main problem is that many victims who were driving these vehicles lacked the training and knowledge to use a motorized vehicle on the busy roads of Israel,” Erdan’s office emphasized.
EARLIER ON Monday, Transportation Minister Israel Katz placed much of the blame on law enforcement authorities, writing, “The main problem in the field does not stem from the absence of legislation but from the lack of enforcement of existing laws... [by] the Public Security Ministry, the Israel Police, the mayors and the local authority inspectors, who are charged with enforcing the law in the field.”
Katz said he would support any legislation requested by the police for increased enforcement. He said that his ministry was examining the possibility of promoting legislation that would impose sanctions on underage electric bike riders, postponing the age at which they can be sanctioned to ride.
Instead of requiring all users of electric bikes to complete a special licensing procedure, he said, his ministry was working with the National Road Safety Authority to integrate the subject of electric bicycles and road safety into high school curriculums. “It is certainly possible to consider conditioning the use of electric vehicles between the ages of 16 or 17, or until the issuance of a driver’s license, by obtaining approval for the participation and completion of a course,” Katz added.
According to data from the Traffic Department reported by Channel 2, there has been a 64% increase in enforcement of laws related to electric bikes. In 2016, 5,390 cases of enforcement were recorded; in 2017, that figure was 8,768; and in 2018-to date, there have been 15,979 reports of enforcement.
A series of laws has been passed in recent years in an attempt to improve electric bicycle safety. In June 2017, the Knesset Economics Committee approved legislation increasing the authority of municipal inspectors to ticket electric-bike riders who violate traffic laws.
This includes enforcing the age limit for use of electric bikes and scooters. In 2016 the Knesset Finance Committee raised the minimum age from 14 to 16. Additional rules included: Electric bikes and scooters are limited to having a maximum power of 250 watts and are forbidden from driving at speeds above 25 kilometers per hour; riders under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets; from the age of 18, helmets must be worn while cycling in city areas; no license or insurance is required; it is prohibited to ride on the sidewalk; 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.
ACCORDING TO a report by the road safety NGO Or Yarok, there are well over 200,000 electric bikes in use in Israel.
The NGO said that in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of electric bike accidents, caused in part by the increase of bikes on the roads but also caused by “the government’s poor preparations for regulating the issue in terms of legislation, infrastructure and enforcement.”
Or Yarok spokesman Oz Dror told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that one of the biggest problems is the lack of bicycle paths. He said that while enforcement to keep cyclists off sidewalk pavements has resulted in fewer pedestrians being hit by electric bikes, it increased the number of accidents on the roadways.
A survey by Or Yarok of 3,200 electric-bike riders in 114 local councils, showed bike lanes in only 18% of the areas surveyed.
Dror also cited a lack of education and awareness of the rules of the road among many electric-bike riders as a cause of accidents.
He said enforcement only started in earnest this past year and is still not prevalent enough. Many electric bikes, he noted, do not meet the legal requirements. He said that officials must ensure that these are taken off the road and that no more are sold, a demand that would require significant increases in enforcement and licensing.
According to data from Or Yarok, between 2014 and 2017, the number of accidents involving electric bicycles more than tripled, rising from 692 to 2,185. A third of the casualties were children and youths. In 2017, 248 of the casualties were under the age of 16.
Eytan Halon contributed to this report.