Ari Nesher, who died last week at the age of 17, four days after he was hit by a car on Tel Aviv’s Rokach Boulevard while riding an electric bicycle, was the 16th e-bike fatality in Israel this year, according to the National Road Safety Authority. The time has come to recognize the following fact and to shout it out: Electric bicycles are not bicycles. They are motor vehicles whose use is totally unregulated.
The state does not maintain a registry of e-bikes and their owners, does not require their riders to know the traffic laws, to learn how to ride in traffic or to take a written exam. While the law does require e-bikes to use bike lanes and paths when available — and to ride on the street in their absence — in practice, many riders of electric bikes go wherever they please. Many of them do not obey traffic laws; they ride against the direction of traffic, run red lights, don’t stop at stop signs, appear suddenly without warning, often without proper lights or reflectors and cut in front of cars. When it’s convenient to them, they ride on the sidewalk, as if they were bicycles, and when it suits them they are the kings of the road — like cars, but with no limits and no safety gear of any kind.
In their defense, it must be said that most cities don’t have bike lanes or paths and the roads are in bad shape. In addition, there is no awareness, no appropriate laws and no enforcement of the laws we do have.
Although the minimum age for riding an ebike is 16, enforcement is lax. Hospital emergency room figures prove that the law is no deterrent to underage riders: 28 percent of people admitted to hospital after an ebike accident are younger than 16. In addition, by law helmets are required only up to age 18 (that is expected to change soon), and many ebike riders exceed the maximum speed of 25 kph.
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The growth in the popularity of e-bikes (their estimated number in Israel is 250,000) is a danger not only to their young riders. Every year, the number of people who are hospitalized as the result of accidents involving electric bicycles rises. It is an egregious lapse on the part of the Transportation and Road Safety Ministry and the man who heads it, Yisrael Katz. There is no regulation or enforcement when it comes to e-bikes. Katz is derelict in his duties in passing legislation, in enforcement and in the building and maintenance of infrastructure.
Why is it that a 16-year-old who want to ride a motorbike needs to register the vehicle and take out a driver’s license, while a 16-year-old who wants to rise an electric bicycle (or scooter) can do so freely?
The state must redress this folly through legislation, while the police must enforce the laws, just as it does with the operators of all other motor vehicles. The disgrace that is the handling of electric bikes in Israel must be stopped.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.