After years of foot dragging, the Transportation Ministry on September 1 issued regulations for motorized bicycles, including one that forbids children under age 14 to ride them. But thousands of children who have become accustomed to life without buses and without having to ask mom and dad for a ride are reluctant to give up their independence.
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A similar regulation had been on the books, but when it expired, parents lost no time giving their children a vehicle that changed their lives. Motorized bikes freed parents from having to drive their children to school and to extracurricular activities. In the Sharon, a quarter to a third of 13-year-olds ride to school on electric bicycles.
The new regulations also forbid going faster than 25 kilometers (15 miles) an hour and talking on cellphones while riding. Riders must wear helmets and the bicycles must be equipped with a headlight, reflectors and a horn or bell and have “bicycle with auxiliary motor” printed on them.
Some schools enforce the regulations and forbid students to bring their bikes onto school grounds. But it’s hard to go backward. So many students continue to ride their electric bikes and chain them up in the street outside the school, risking their being stolen or damaged.
“We received an email forbidding children under 14 to ride to school on those bikes, but my kids still do it,” says a teacher from the Sharon area. She believes the regulations are “something formal, the authorities’ way of covering their asses. My children are responsible and I trust them. It’s convenient for them and convenient for me.”
Thirty-thousand motorized bicycles were sold last year, most of them to teenagers. The Ramat Hasharon municipality sees these bikes as a plague and its officials say they are concerned that the children are deprived of physical activity because they don’t have to pedal.
“Please give me some advice how to persuade my parents to buy me an electric bike,” a child posted on an online forum. “Most of my friends have them. I found low prices, but my parents said it wasn’t a matter of money. My father gets annoyed right away and won’t listen.”
Gal, 14, a junior-high student in Ramat Hasharon, received a motorized bike a year and a half ago and says it changed his life.
“Once going to school and back took me 40 minutes by bus in each direction. Today it’s 10 minutes,” he says.
“I also don’t have to ask my mom if she can take me places. My parents understood they had to buy me so that I’ll be responsible and independent. Loads of kids drive without helmets and overtake cars. I don’t,” he says.
Tal Schneider, a political blogger from Ramat Hasharon, who in the past commended the motorized bikes, won’t allow her son Omri to ride his due to the regulation.
“He’s really bummed out,” she says. “There are buses, but it takes three times as long because a bus comes once an hour. But from the moment it was banned, it was clear we wouldn’t try to bypass the law. It’s important to uphold the law.”
Still, she thinks teens should be allowed to ride bicycles.
“I understand the pedestrians who don’t like them going on the sidewalks, but instead of seeing them as an enemy they should fight to build bike lanes," she says. "Not only in Ramat Hasharon, in Lod too. There, it’s even more important. Here some parents can hire an au pair to drive the child around.”
The Or Yarok association has data about pedestrians and young cyclists who have been hurt by motorized bicycles and scooters, but the figures are partial and unconvincing. “The problem is that for three years, because of the Transportation Ministry’s foot dragging, the issue hasn’t been regulated,” says Shmuel Abuav, Or Yarok's chief executive.
“Tens of thousands of children are driving [motorized bicycles] without skills. Stores sell bicycles that can go up to 60 kilometers an hour. I hope parents understand that the children are endangering their lives,” he says.
Guy Barzel, head of the parents committee at Kelman junior high school in Ramat Hasharon, also blames the Transportation Ministry. “It slept for three years and enabled a transportation jungle to spring up. It’s not really a bicycle; it’s a motorbike,” he says.
One way or another, for Omri Schneider, 13, the temporary separation from his motorized bike is not easy.
“It’s hard to go back to needing a ride or transportation to go everywhere," he says. "I have to wait for public transportation. Some of the students [still ride their bikes and] park outside the school, but others have given them up. Even after age 14, the regulations say I can ride only on bicycle lanes and there isn’t a bicycle lane to school,” he says.