Are electric bikes (e-bikes) safe for kids? How to prevent injuries – CHOC

Due to COVID-19 lockdowns and anxieties about the safety of public transportation, there has been a steady rise in sales of electric bikes (e-bikes) in the U.S. over the past three years.

CHOC has also seen a steady rise in pediatric injuries related to e-bikes. Unfortunately, electric bikes bring an increased risk of injury in children, specifically adolescents.   

Makenzie Ferguson, injury prevention educator at CHOC, notes that the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Hospital has treated over 80 patients for injuries caused by e-bikes over the last three years — with 30 of those treated in the last six months.

Here, Makenzie offers safety advice to parents regarding e-bikes riding for kids and adolescents.  

Common injuries caused by electric bikes (e-bikes) at CHOC

Of the pediatric e-bike injuries treated by CHOC, the following were the most common:

  1. Concussions.
  2. Extremity (a limb of the body like an arm or leg) fractures.
  3. Skull fractures.
  4. Facial fractures.

As seen at CHOC, these injuries were most commonly caused by falling off the e-bike, colliding with a static object while riding, being struck by a car while riding or being struck by someone on an e-bike while walking.

Learn more about the frequency, locations and nature of electric bike-related injuries in Orange County from CHOC.

Can kids and adolescents safely ride e-bikes?

Yes. Kids and teens can safely ride e-bikes with precautions in place. When riding an e-bike, Makenzie encourages parents to ensure that their kids:

Wear a helmet with the chin strap fastened.

Only about half of the children CHOC treated for e-bike injuries were wearing a helmet. No matter the age, or minimum requirements of the local laws, all children and adolescents should wear a helmet when using any e-bike, manual bike, scooter, etc.

Parents should teach their kids the importance of wearing a helmet at an early age and model this behavior by wearing one themselves.

CHOC experts speak about the importance of helmets for kids.

Don’t ride on an e-bike with another rider.

There should be no more than one rider on an e-bike at a time to reduce the risk of falling off the e-bike.

Have knowledge of road safety.

Parents should not allow their children to use e-bikes unless they have a foundational knowledge of road safety. Parents should be aware of the different classes of e-bikes, as well as local laws and regulations.

Stay visible while riding.

Parents should make sure that their family is visible to cars while riding e-bikes. Some drivers may take a turn in front of you or come dangerously close to sideswiping you as you ride in the bike lane.

Choose a bike with lights to remain visible after dark.

Additionally, there are independent rearview radars available for purchase (separate from e-bike) that can be installed on e-bike. These radars can sense and alert riders of vehicles approaching from behind.

How old does a child have to be to ride an e-bike?

E-bikes are broken down into the following classes based on their speed and a presence of a throttle:

  • Class one: An electric bicycle that is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling. It ceases to provide that assistance once the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
  • Class two: An electric bicycle with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide pedal assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph. 
  • Class three: An electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance while the rider is pedaling, and ceases to provide that assistance when the bicycle reaches 28 mph.

There are no current age restrictions for riders of electric bikes in classes one and two. Class three e-bikes require the rider to be a minimum age of 16 years old.

Most of the patients treated at CHOC for e-bike injuries were between the ages of 14 and 16 years. However, CHOC has also treated children as young as 2 years for injuries caused by riding on an e-bike with an adult or being struck by an e-bike while walking.

It’s important to remember that just because there are no current age restrictions for class one and class two e-bikes, it doesn’t mean that e-bikes are appropriate for children of all ages.

Learn more safety tips for manual bikes.

What are the risks associated with e-bikes for kids and adolescents?

The biggest risk associated with e-bikes is speed.

Injuries can occur with any wheeled device like manual bicycles, skateboards or scooters, but because e-bikes can travel up to around 30 mph, the speed can cause more severe injuries.  Another risk associated with e-bikes is a lack of operator skill and knowledge. Unfortunately, there is no formalized road safety course required to use an e-bike. Riders need to have basic knowledge of road rules and situational awareness to ride safety and decrease the risk of injuries on the road.

For more safety and injury prevention tips from CHOC experts