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E-Bikes banned in Key Biscayne following tragic wrongful death incident of bicyclist – A call for legislative action

Man-on-e-bike-300x200A recent accident in Key Biscayne, Florida, involving a 12-year-old riding an e-bike and a traditional bicycle, tragically resulted in the death of the bicyclist, Megan Andrews, a career-educator and pillar in the community. This incident has once again brought the dangers of e-bikes, particularly when operated by younger riders, into sharp focus.

Key Biscayne’s local leaders, under massive public pressure, approved a temporary complete ban on e-bikes during an emergency meeting. The temporary ban will be in place for 60 days, the maximum length of time the Village could approve without running afoul of the law. The ban applies all roads of the Village of Key Biscayne except for Crandon Boulevard (the main and highest-traffic roadway of Key Biscayne) because it is owned and regulated by Miami-Dade County.

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have become increasingly popular in the entire country, including Florida. However, when it comes to children using e-bikes and the dangers they bring, the legislator has dropped the ball miserably by failing to address crucial safety concerns:

E-bikes can reach speeds significantly higher than regular bikes, either 20 mph or 28 mph (depending on the class of bike). This increased speed comes with a higher risk of serious injuries in case of a fall or a collision.

Unlike traditional bikes where riders control the speed entirely with their own effort, e-bikes introduce the element of sudden motor assistance. Children unfamiliar with the increased power will unintentionally accelerate too quickly, leading to losing control, swerving, tipping over, falling over, not stopping on time and causing a collision.

While children feel confident riding a regular bicycle at regular speed, in familiar and quiet streets, the increased speed and power of an e-bike can quickly overwhelm them. Coupled with the fact children riding e-bikes are allowed to ride on busy roads, at high speed they will struggle to anticipate traffic flow, struggle to understand complex traffic situations like intersections, safe and stopping distances, or right of way. This lack of experience and awareness leads to dangerous maneuvers and unpredictable behavior on the road.

No helmet requirement over 16

Community at risk
The dangers of e-bikes for young riders extend beyond the individual. When young children ride e-bikes at high speeds, they pose a significant risk to others in the community, particularly pedestrians and other bicyclists. With no to limited knowledge of traffic laws, children will indiscriminately ride at excessive speed on the road or on the sidewalk, cut corners, fail to slow down when coming upon a blind or sharp turn, etc.

The near-silent operation of e-bikes presents another unique danger. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and even drivers are accustomed to the audible cues of traditional vehicles. The lack of awareness, combined with the high speeds e-bikes can reach, significantly increases the risk of collisions to occur. Individuals relying on sound to navigate their surroundings can unknowingly step into the path of an e-bike rider, leading to catastrophic injuries for both the rider and those around them.

After going backwards, Florida must regulate e-bikes and micromobility vehicles NOW!

Prior to 2020, e-bikes were categorized under the existing definition of “motorized bicycles” within the legal framework. This categorization imposed limitations on important aspects such as speed, motor power, and age requirements for riders. In the previous law, children under the age of 16 were prohibited from operating an electric bicycle.

However, with the increasing popularity of e-bikes and the number of electric bicycle manufacturers, the legislator caved to Tallahassee lobbyists and deemed these limitations outdated and in need of revision. In the summer of 2020, the legislative shift took place and a new law was born, stripping all safety regulations from the books.

Under the purview of Florida Statute §316.20655, e-bikes are granted the same rights and responsibilities as traditional bicycles, and are “afforded all the rights and privileges, and be subject to all of the duties, of a bicycle or the operator of a bicycle”. They can be operated on designated bike lanes, streets, sidewalks, and multi-use paths, and registration, insurance or licensing is not mandated. Additionally, the prohibition on individuals under the age of 16 riding or operating a motorized bicycle or e-bike was completely removed. Local authorities retain the power to regulate the operation of e-bikes on sidewalks and specific areas within their jurisdiction, similar to existing regulations for traditional bicycles, but they cannot impose a rider’s age limit.

The other side of that political equation is the booming reality on the ground. According to the Department of Energy, over 2 million e-bikes were sold in the United States between 2018 and 2021. In 2022, more than 1.1 million e-bikes were sold. If the trend of the previous five years continued in 2023, an additional 1.4 million e-bikes were added to the user market, bringing the total number of e-bikes on the market to a whopping 4.5 million.

Between a new law utterly void of safety regulations and the increasing popularity of fast moving e-bikes and other micromobility devices, local communities have no choice but to rely on young riders’ best judgment not to cause chaos on the road and not to injure themselves or others. But, is anyone that naive? The Department of Transportation’s Road Safety chapter on Teen Driving stresses this very point regarding teenagers driving a car: “One thing is certain: teens aren’t ready to have the same level of driving responsibility as adults. Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their immaturity, lack of skills, and lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily.”

Empirically and physiologically, teenage-drivers are more dangerous to themselves and to members of the public than their elders. Parents know it, sociologists know it, and car insurance companies certainly know it. Multiple factors are in play such as the lack of experience, known developmental shortcomings or distractions due to passengers or cell phones, but the raw data does not lie: Teens aged 16/17 have the highest crash rates of any other age group. Hence, if teens are not mature enough to safely drive a car on the road, it does not take a giant leap to ask and wonder why the Florida legislator is allowing teens to operate fast-moving electric bikes that afford zero bodily protection, while sharing the road with other cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists.  The policy failure is complete.

To add insult to Key Biscayne’s injury, in 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $600,000 Crandon Boulevard safety improvement project aimed to enhance traffic and protect drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists throughout Key Biscayne, including Crandon Boulevard.

While the pre-2020 regime was far from perfect, it imposed several sensical requirements that must be put back in the law as soon as possible. Age-requirement, licensing, registration, and insurance coverage should be the bare minimum prerequisites to operate a fast-moving electric bicycle in Florida.

Leesfield & Partners – Agents of Positive Change

Across the last four decades, Ira H. Leesfield and Thomas Scolaro have fought numerous courtroom and political battles side by side on behalf of their injured clients and their families. With them, Leesfield & Partners has spearheaded changes to consumer safety laws and improved Florida safety standards repeatedly to benefit all Floridians.

In 2007, they successfully fought for passage of Senate Bill 1822, the first law at the time that required public lodging establishments to install carbon monoxide detectors that we all take for granted today. (Leesfield & Partners Celebrates 35 Years of Excellence Representing Injured Victims in Key West)

After several failed attempts by others, Ira Leesfield was instrumental in the passage of the first law regulating the parasailing industry. The Amber May Law came into effect in 2014, and it was named after Leesfield & Partners’s client, Amber May, a young teenager who perished in a parasailing incident in 2007 in Broward County.

In the 2000s, Ira Leesfield became the voice of countless victims who were injured or killed in motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers on their cell phones. Leesfield wrote many articles and delivered many speeches for over a decade on the very topic, including Driving + Cell Phones = Bad Call, and Texting and driving a costly business risk. At the time, the cell phone industry was booming and again the Florida legislator was late to regulate. With catastrophic statistics year after year, Florida finally passed its first ban on texting while driving in 2013.

Thomas Scolaro pushed for an industry-wide change after one of his client’s young child was killed in a furniture tip-over accident. While securing an eight-figure settlement for his client, he convinced the defendant manufacturer to alter its safety standards and to launch a worldwide awareness campaign named ‘Anchor it!” in an effort to warn future customers of the risks posed .

Much like for all of these important societal safety breakthroughs, Ira Leesfield has already forewarned the legislator and his peers in the legal community of the dangers of micromobility vehicles when he and Justin Shapiro wrote Make way for E-Scooters in Trial Magazine (February 2019):

“A part of the “vehicle sharing” revolution, hundreds of thousands of pay-per-minute bicycles, electric bicycles, and electric scooters now populate streets, sidewalks, and pedestrian walkways. The growth of sharing services for transportation other than cars has been staggering . . . [b]ut as this type of sharing has increased, so have reports of users and others being injured or even killed. Although related litigation can offer some direction, attorneys representing people injured by electric scooters and nontraditional vehicles can pave the way in this emerging area.”

Since 1976, Leesfield & Partners has epitomized excellence among Miami’s Personal Injury Lawyers. Renowned as a premier injury law firm nationwide, we are distinguished for our tenacious advocacy and unwavering track record of success. We have achieved groundbreaking verdicts and settlements for victims harmed by negligence and recklessness. To contact us, call 305-854-4900 or fill out an inquiry form on our website by clicking here.

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