Caught in the Act: Young e-Bike Riders Breaking Rules, Creating Safety Concerns

It’s unclear just how often people are getting hurt on e-bikes because most local police departments and hospitals aren’t tracking e-bike injuries

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They’re all the rage: electric bikes, better known as e-bikes.

In the last few months, there has been a surge of e-bikes on the streets and sidewalks, especially in San Diego’s North County. And more are on the way soon. The Encinitas City Council recently approved a pilot bike-share program, which will bring 100 e-bikes and 10 docking stations.

Jerry Wong is the manager of Gelato 101. The popular spot is located on the busy intersection of South Coast Highway 101 and D Street in downtown Encinitas. 

“They just turn whenever they feel like it,” Wong said, referring to young e-bike riders.  Right outside the shop, he’s seen close calls between e-bikes, pedestrians and cars. “Most of the time it's very close, people honk their horn at them,” said Wong.  

E-bike sales have boomed since the pandemic, but as popularity increases, communities express their safety concerns. NBC 7's Allie Raffa is in Solana Beach with more.

NBC7 visited downtown Encinitas on three different days in July and August and set up watch at a number of busy intersections.

A majority of the e-bike riders we spotted were young pre-teens and teenagers. There is no age requirement to ride most e-bikes in California. But if you’re under 18, you are required to wear a helmet.

While most of the riders we saw were following the rules, we did catch some breaking the law.

Like rolling through stop signs. When riding on the street, bikes have to obey the same traffic rules as vehicles.

We also saw bikes with two or three kids piled on, which is illegal unless there is a permanent passenger seat.

And e-bikes are not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks in the downtown area of Encinitas, but we saw a few teens doing it.

Lucas Cavallaro loves riding his e-bike with friends. The 12-year-old said, “I’ve seen a lot more kids being reckless on e-bikes.”

We caught up with Lucas and two of his friends after they completed a free e-bike safety class, something the city of Encinitas offers monthly.

London Cote, 12, talked about what he learned in the training. “One of the most important things I learned was to use hand signals.”

Merrick Johnson, 12, said, “I've seen a couple of kids who don't have their hands on the steering wheel. They are looking at their phone while they are riding.” 

Jacob Mandel is with the San Diego Bicycle Coalition. The group advocates for bike safety and hosts those free e-bike safety classes in Encinitas.

“We’ve heard a lot of people being upset, especially in the North County about the explosion of e-bikes and the only thing I have to say to those people is that e-bikes are coming, they're going to be here," Mandel said.

Mandel says the issue is not with the young riders but with cities not having a safe space for cyclists to ride.

“I would say the number one thing is infrastructure and then education on how to ride safely," Mandel said. "I would say anyone that is upset about e-bikes in their community would be to go out and advocate for more protected infrastructure and get those bikes off the sidewalk onto a safe protected bikeway and path.”

It’s unclear just how often people are getting hurt on e-bikes locally. NBC7 Investigates reached out to a number of local police departments and hospitals. We found most are not tracking e-bike injuries specifically, they get lumped in with regular bicycle injuries. But UC San Diego Medical Center is tracking the data and says so far this year, they’ve treated about 17 patients who were hurt while riding e-bikes.

Meanwhile, in Encinitas, Wong says he’d like to see the city and sheriff’s department enforcing e-bike rules, making sure the streets and sidewalks are safe for everyone.

“We would like for them to enforce a designated area for them to park or (make sure) they follow rules, protocols, helmet, no sidewalk riding, a certain mile per hour.”

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