Northern Beaches Council is leading a push for reforms to e-bike laws and infrastructure following its own safety audit, which identified a number of safety concerns with regular misuse of electrically-powered bikes and scooters
Earlier this month at a meeting of Council, it was agreed to call on the NSW Government to “review the current road rules to improve public safety and protect pedestrians, riders and motorists from e-bike accidents.” (See Council proposals below)
The safety audit was initially conducted following a push by former Northern Beaches Police Commander turned councillor David Walton.
A Council spokesperson summarised the audit: “Council’s Transport Network team recently worked with Northern Beaches Police Area Command to audit electric bike, electric scooter, electric rollerblades, electric skateboards and other bike usage, on Northern Beaches shared paths, bike paths, and footpaths.”
The audit examined speed limits, shared paths, signage and educating e-bike owners on legislation and their responsibilities, and made recommendations to mitigate the increasing risks associated with users infringing the safety of themselves and the public.
Audit results: The primary issues identified in Council’s audit included:
* Younger riders having little exposure to or knowledge of NSW Road Rules.
* Younger e-bike riders are too young to hold a driver’s licence or learner permit.
* Concerns about pillion passengers, sitting on the handlebars or behind the rider, without helmets and travelling at speed.
* The prevalence of e-scooters and other non-compliant devices and the inaccurate assumption by survey respondents that such devices were legal.
* The need to enforce regulations to target and deter non-compliance of road rules, from helmet wearing to speed limits. (Enforcement could be undertaken utilising Council Rangers or via NSW Police safety operations.)
Helmets: In NSW it is mandatory to wear an approved bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle – electric or pedal-powered. This applies to both roads and ‘road-related areas’ (including footpaths, bush trails, any paths designated for vehicles, animals or vehicles and nature strips adjacent to roads) and to riders of all ages, including children.
The maximum penalty a court can impose for the offence of not wearing a helmet is 20penalty units, which amounts to $2200, but most cases are dealt with by way of ‘on-the-spot’ fines in the sum of $344.
Speed limit: Throughout Australia, e-bikes are currently subject to the same road rules as bicycles. The motors are principally designed to assist pedalling and legislation determines they must be limited to a top speed of 25 kilometres per hour.
However, as Manly Observer previously reported, although they are set to a default limit of 25km/h when new, they can quite easily be reprogrammed to enable them to travel 35km/h or faster – and imported e-bikes are often capable of higher speeds.
Furthermore, e-scooters cannot (yet) legally be ridden on public roads and paths in NSW, only on private property. The exception is where e-scooter trials are taking place, approved by Transport for NSW.
Northern Beaches Mayor Sue Heins said the increase in popularity of e-bikes was what prompted Council to clarify the effectiveness of existing road rules to cover their usage.
“While it’s great to see so many people choosing cleaner transport options to move around the Northern Beaches, we need to ensure we have the right road rules to protect all road users,” she said. “With more and more e-bikes appearing on our shared pathways, roads and footpaths Northern Beaches Council is grappling with how to improve public safety.”
Cr David Walton also expressed his concern to Manly Observer, “If a young child or an elderly person is knocked over by one of these fast-moving, large electric bikes, it could result in serious injury or death.”
Because e-bike legislation is a state government not local government matter, Council is limited in what it can introduce to mitigate dangers. This is why Council has resolved to introduce a motion 2023 annual conference of the Local Government NSW to be held 12-14 November. This way Council’s across the state can collectively lobby for changes.
Council would like to see engagement with Transport for NSW and the NSW Minister for Roads and Transport, Jo Haylen, and encourage them to initiate a state-wide education campaign on e-bike usage and instigate a review of the relevant road rules.
They also want a capital grants program to help make safety improvements to shared paths and a a community awareness and safety campaign to improve pedestrian and rider safety in respect of e-bikes, including but not limited to education on the current laws in respect of all electric micro mobility devices.
Primarily, they are calling for a review of the current NSW Road Rules 2014 and Regulations under the Road Transport Act 2013 to make any necessary changes to improve public safety and to focus on key risk areas: speeding of e-bikes and bicycles on shared paths; e-bike riders approaching and passing pedestrians safely; the carrying of three or more pillion passengers on e-bikes and bicycles; the altering of e-bike systems to prevent the requirement for pedalling or preventing top speed controls; and setting an appropriate maximum size and weight of an e-bike to reduce risks to pedestrians.
Recognising the issue could take some time to resolve at a state level, councillors also unanimously resolved to develop educational resources and a behavioural change awareness campaign as well as reviewing its own bike plan to see where where infrastructure improvements can be made.
In the interim, Council will work on a community awareness and safety campaign to improve pedestrian and rider safety in respect of e-bikes, including but not limited to education on the current laws in respect of all electric micro mobility devices.
Mayor Heins added, “Council will also explore ways to better accommodate e-bikes. Together, we hope to reach a solution to improving e-bike and pedestrian safety.”
Northern Beaches Council e-bikes safety: https://www.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/e-bike-and-e-scooter-safety
Transport for NSW e-bikes legislation: https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/roadsafety/bicycle-riders/ebikes