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Imagine this scenario: A 13-year-old child, who just received an e-bike for his birthday, decides to ride his new bike to school. While riding quickly on the sidewalk, he rounds a tight corner and hits a pedestrian walking their dog. The pedestrian sustains serious injuries and needs medical attention.
While that story is fictitious, the increasing popularity of e-bikes means scenarios like this happen frequently. The real-life ramifications are worrying, and here’s why. In this scenario, the child was operating the e-bike illegally given their young age. The legal age to ride e-bikes is 16 years in most states. Riding on the sidewalk is also illegal in most areas.
In this case, the accident would likely not be covered by the parents’ homeowners policy. It would also not be covered by an umbrella policy unless the bike was specifically listed. If the injured party were to sue the child’s parents, the parents would likely be liable for damages. The carrier could cite the exclusion for motorized vehicles (which includes e-bikes). Parental liability or negligence exclusions could also be cited, thus leaving the parents responsible for the settlement.
The intent of this article is not to scare people away from the ownership and use of e-bikes. As a biking enthusiast, I love seeing the growth of the biking community across the country. However, it’s important for e-bike owners to understand the risks, responsibilities, liabilities, applicable state laws, and available insurance protection options.
Electronic bikes, or e-bikes, have grown increasingly popular as electric motors and batteries have become lighter and more affordable. The global e-bike market was valued at nearly $18 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $40 billion by 2030. The Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) estimates the U.S. imported almost 790,000 e-bikes in 2021, nearly doubling the 2020 imports.
The appeal of e-bikes is wide and diverse. They’re great for on- and off-road recreation, exercise, and transportation. Buyers appreciate e-bikes’ convenience and versatility. E-bikes are also a climate-friendly transportation option as they don’t produce emissions.
There are many popular e-bike designs, but most fall into one of three categories:
With more e-bikes hitting the road, there’s been a considerable increase in e-bike accidents. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that injuries from e-bikes and other small electric vehicles rose 127% from 2017 to 2021. One reason is e-bikes are more difficult for some people to safely control. In many cases, crashes and injuries can be attributed to the increased speed, weight, and acceleration ability of e-bikes. A 2019 report found that e-bike riders account for three times more pedestrian collisions than traditional pedal cyclists.
Along with these safety risks, e-bikes present other ownership risks. If you’re thinking about getting an e-bike, you may want to consider these questions in addition to the safety risks:
The rise in e-bike popularity has brought a rise in claims. Some carriers have begun to strengthen their policy language to specifically exclude e-bikes as a result. However, other carriers are developing specific insurance products to serve this market. These insurance offerings are likely to broaden as the market continues to grow.
If you own or are thinking of purchasing an e-bike, you’ll want to be aware of the specific e-bike laws in your state and local area. You’ll also want to know the local laws if you take your e-bike to a different town or state. Speaking with an insurance advisor can determine whether your current policy provides coverage or if a separate policy is needed for your e-bike.
The growth of the biking and e-biking community is a positive development. While e-bikes present inherent risks, you can manage these risks by following the local rules and protecting yourself adequately. With this knowledge and protection, you’re on your way to healthy habits, relieving road congestion, and reducing fuel consumption.