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May 14 Comment to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on E-bike regulations

Document last updated on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Summary

May 14, 2024

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East-West Highway, 4th Floor
Bethesda, MD 20814

Re: Electric Bicycles; Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; Request for Comments and Information

Dear Commissioners,

On behalf of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, thank you in advance for your consideration of our comments on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, related to electric bicycles (Docket No. CPSC–2024–0008). We appreciate your Commission’s attention to this emerging consumer safety priority – and we urge you to proceed with proposing new federal regulations under the Consumer Product Safety Act and/or Federal Hazardous Substances Act which will provide clear, mandatory requirements and standards for consumers and manufacturers to reduce the risk of injuries on e-bikes.

Marin County is well-known for its bicycle-friendly policies, infrastructure and many local enthusiasts of the sport. Indeed, local Mt. Tamalpais is considered the birthplace of mountain biking. This makes our community an early adopter of new bicycle technology, and a microcosm for emerging national trends. And to be clear – we see bicycles, including e-bikes, as a vital component to meet our community’s sustainability, transportation and health goals.

However, our comments today center on our growing concern of the injury risks that e-bikes pose for riders of all ages – but especially for school-age children. We agree with the Commission’s assessment that “the current mandatory and voluntary standards do not eliminate or adequately reduce the risk of injury identified or associated with e-bikes.”

We strongly urge federal regulators to enhance federal safety regulations on e-bikes – and consider changing many of your current voluntary standards, to mandatory requirements, for riders and manufacturers. Manufacturer regulations must be put in place to disallow after-market product modifications to increase the top speeds (such as compatibility with “turning kits”); and to discourage unsafe practices such as the tandem riding that occurs on e-bikes with oversized, motorcycle-style seats that are manufactured to carry only one e-bike operator.

1. Marin’s local data on e-bike injuries mirrors the concerning national trends in the CPSC’s September 2023 report “Micromobility Products-Related Deaths, Injuries, and Hazard Patterns: 2017–2022”.

From 2019 to 2022, Marin County saw an alarming trend: 911 calls for bike accidents for youth 10 to 19 years old more than doubled, while rates for other age groups had much smaller increases. To gain visibility on this issue, in October 2023 we asked our ambulance crews across Marin to document bike accident EMS responses with whether it was an e-bike or a conventional bicycle. Data as of May 14, 2024 shows that:
 

  • The e-bike accident rate for 10-15 year olds (53 per 100,000) is nearly 4x the rate of the next highest e-bike accident rate age group, 60+ year olds (14 per 100,000).
     
  • The conventional bicycle accident rate for 10-15 year olds (70 per 100,000) is on par with the next highest conventional bike accident rate age group, 40-59 year olds (70 per 100,000).

We would also like underscore that our data represents only accidents serious enough to warrant a 911 response. In speaking with our emergency room and trauma center physicians, what is particularly concerning is the serious nature of e-bike accidents. Instead of the scraped knees and broken wrists, e-bike injuries are more serious – including femur and pelvic fractures, damage to organs, and brain trauma — injuries akin to motor vehicle accident injuries. Data can be found at https://www.marinhhs.org/bicycle-safety.

E-bike accident rates. October 2023 to May 2024 data

E-bike accident rates

Conventional bike accident rates. October 2023 to May 2024 data

conventional bike accident rates

2. Enhanced safety regulations are needed for riders under 16. 

Given the data on serious injuries and the vastly disproportionate injury rates, we believe that the CPSC must implement more stringent federal regulations for youth under 16.

California defines e-bikes as “[A] bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.” There are three classes established by law:

  • Class 1: A low speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle equipped with a motor which provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when a speed of 20 mph is reached.
  • Class 2: A low speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle equipped with a motor used exclusively to propel the bicycle and NOT capable of providing assistance when a speed of 20 mph is reached.
  • Class 3: A low speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle equipped with a speedometer, and a motor which provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when a speed of 28 mph is reached.

California already limits Class 3 e-bike riders to 16 and older and requires helmet use for Class 3 for all ages. The County of Marin partnered with Assemblymember Damon Connolly to put forward Assembly Bill 1778 this year, that would take effect January 2024 if passed. The bill would establish an opt-in pilot program in Marin County prohibiting individuals under 16 from operating Class 2 electric bicycles. The bill also requires e-bike riders of all ages to wear a helmet, and for law enforcement to collect traffic stop and citation data.

However, it is important to note that the theorized safety of Class 1 e-bikes for youth, over Class 2, is not proven in our local data, since we do not collect information on whether an e-bike accident involved a Class 1, 2 or 3 e-bike. Therefore, our approach to limit riders under 16 to Class 1, pedal-assisted e-bikes is not based on proven safety and injury data, but rather on the following principles:

  • Requiring pedaling allows for more balance for a rider;
  • Required pedaling means the bike will accelerate to its top speed at a slower rate than a throttle assist e-bike; and 
  • Pedal-assist e-bikes can be more difficult to apply after-market modifications on to increase top speed.

We understand that in order for federal regulators to make a similar determination, more national data is needed on the variance of the risk of injury of different classifications of e-bikes. We urge you to study the relative risks, and most importantly, ensure that children under 16 are on e-bikes with the lowest injury risks by mandating clear labeling requirements.

3. Labeling requirements are needed for manufacturers requiring clear descriptions of the e-bike classification, strong warning labels on the risk of injury, required age restrictions.

Federal regulators can effectively enact change at the e-bike manufacturer and distributor level. We can’t do this at the County level. Additionally, for consumers to understand the product they are purchasing (and the related injury risk) – federal regulators should impose mandatory, not voluntary, labeling of an e-bike’s classification. This is already required in California.

Accompanying clear labeling of e-bike classification should be appropriate age restrictions, supported by federal-led national data on the risks of injuries associated with different e-bike classifications. As noted, Marin County does not currently maintain accident data stratified by e-bike classes.

Currently, the CPSC recommends that children ages 9–12 not operate e-bikes that travel faster than 10 miles per hour. Knowing the disproportionate high injury risks that e-bikes have to youth, it is critical that regulators properly define that risk by e-bike class – and convey them to consumers in clear warning labels and required age limits when the risk is severe and warranted.

This is especially important for parents considering purchasing an e-bike for their child and are not aware that e-bikes pose a greater serious injury risk to young riders than conventional bicycles. There are countless examples of e-bikes (especially throttle-assisted e-bikes) that are marketed to young children, including advertising targeting children 3-4 years old. Products need clear warning labels for consumer safety.

4. Product design must be more closely regulated for known safety risks.

Another challenge that CPSC regulation must address is open advertising/labeling of a product’s easy, after-market modifications that a consumer can make to a Class 2 e-bike to increase its top, speed past 20 mph. Some of these modifications can change the top speed of a throttle-powered e-bike to go 45-50mph – well into the definition of an electric motorcycle. Selling, and advertising these capabilities to consumers, should be prohibited.

A serious product concern are e-bikes sold with oversized seat designs which invite tandem riding – akin to motorcycle seats purposefully designed to accommodate two riders. This is a serious concern because we see many tandem riders on our streets. We included an explicit warning against tandem riding in our November 2023 Public Health Advisory on e-bikes. Tandem riding was involved in several local youth e-bike incidents which involved very serious injuries.

5. Without federal regulatory leadership, e-bike safety can only be improved one city, county or state at a time – and can never comprehensively address manufacturer/labeling concerns.

We are challenged in getting consistency among the jurisdictions across our County, let alone beyond our County borders. Even if AB 1778 (Connolly) is passed in California this year, it will only benefit youth in Marin County, since it will be a one-County pilot if signed into law, not a statewide policy.

Other states have passed legislation to address the urgent need to improve e-bike safety – but again, only with the authority within their state’s borders. Last year, Utah passed State Bill HB 85 which includes a “truthful advertising” requirement for out-of-class electric vehicles which are currently sold as "e-bikes”. However, the Utah bill limits the labeling requirement to "Utah-based" manufacturers and sellers. This is  reason  for federal labeling requirements which would apply in all 50 states, and to online retailers.

We thank you for your consideration of our comments on this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding e-bikes, and strongly urge you to proceed with new, proposed rulemaking on this issue. We invite you to reach out to our Board or County staff to further discuss our data, concerns and/or provide any other information that may be helpful to your process.

Supervisor Mary Sacket, District 1, [email protected] 
Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, [email protected]
Talia Smith, Principal Administrative Analyst, [email protected]

Sincerely,

Dennis Rodoni, President
Marin County Board of Supervisors

Cc:      Marin County Board of Supervisors

Attachment A: Nov 14, 2023 Public Health Advisory – E-Bike Safety in Marin County

View the document

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Page updated May 22, 2024