The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) aims to address the hazards associated with electric bicycles (e-bikes). Precursors to Notice of Proposed Rules (NPRs) and Final Rules, ANPRs are a critical public consultation process. This ANPR seeks to bolster the safety protocols of electric bicycles (e-bikes), a rapidly expanding segment within the low-speed transportation market. This initiative, invoking the authority of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), marks a decisive step towards heightened CPSC oversight in response to mounting injury data. As e-bikes, known for their electric motors that enable both partial and fully electric propulsion, increasingly navigate our streets, the CPSC’s intensified scrutiny underscores a growing commitment to public safety and consumer protection.

Product Scope: The Diverse Landscape of E-Bikes

E-bikes encompass a wide range of bicycles integrated with electric motors, which may augment the rider’s pedal power or replace it entirely with a throttle mechanism. These innovative modes of transport cater to a variety of uses—from city commuting to off-road exploration. A defining feature of the e-bike is the pedal-assist system, which amplifies the rider’s torque, enhancing mobility and ease of travel. Alternatively, throttle-equipped e-bikes offer motor-powered propulsion independent of pedaling effort, often controlled by a thumb-operated device on the handlebar.

Regulated under 16 CFR part 1512, “low-speed electric bicycles” are defined by their power output and speed capabilities; specifically, motors must not exceed 750 watts (1 horsepower), and the e-bike must not surpass 20 mph on level ground under motor power alone with a standard-weight rider. Notably, this regulation does not impose a speed cap for pedal-assisted scenarios. E-bikes that don’t meet these criteria, yet are not classified as “motor vehicles” for public roadway use, also fall under CPSC’s purview.

Furthermore, the CPSC recognizes the presence of e-bikes designed for children, such as electric balance bikes without pedals, which aid in developing balance and coordination by allowing propulsion through the rider’s leg power. The current rulemaking focuses exclusively on the e-bike category, distinctly excluding gas-powered bicycles, traditional non-powered bicycles, and children’s battery-powered ride-on toys governed by other safety standards.

Hazards Associated with E-Bikes

In a recent evaluation of e-bike-related safety concerns, the CPSC scrutinized data from the “Micromobility Products-Related Deaths, Injuries, and Hazard Patterns: 2017—2022” report. This in-depth analysis revealed a startling 53,100 estimated injuries linked to e-bike incidents between 2017 and 2022, accounting for 15 percent of all micromobility injuries reported during that period. Notably, there was a sharp increase in emergency department-treated injuries associated with e-bikes, surging from 3,538 in 2017 to 24,335 in 2022.

Regarding fatalities, the CPSC recorded 100 e-bike-related deaths from 2017 to 2022, escalating from none to 41 deaths in this period. Helmet usage was reported in only 16 of these cases, with 13 riders not wearing helmets at the time of the incidents. A majority of the fatalities involved collisions with motor vehicles, while others were attributed to falls, control issues, and collisions with fixed objects, curbs, and pedestrians, with one incident involving a rider ejection.

The CPSC identified various mechanical hazards through the Micromobility Report and the Consumer Product Safety Risk Management System (CPSRMS). Among these hazards were crank arm and pedal detachments, tire failures, brake failures, wheel detachments, issues with rider stability, broken frames, motor shutoff problems, unintended acceleration, and chain and throttle issues.

Regulatory Framework for E-Bike Safety

The CPSC sets forth safety standards for bicycles, including e-bikes, under part 1512, established in 1974 and updated until 2011. This rule outlines mechanical standards akin to those for traditional bicycles, such as requirements for the braking system, steering, pedals, drive chain, tires, wheels, and reflectors, ensuring a foundational level of safety. However, part 1512 doesn’t address the specific needs of e-bikes powered entirely by electricity.

Additionally, ASTM standards for bicycle structure and components are currently in place but lack provisions unique to e-bikes, as they primarily target human-powered bicycles. Although some standards like ASTM F2043–13 (2018) and ASTM F2680 (2017) could be relevant, they may not cover all aspects of e-bike design.

Acknowledging these limitations, the CPSC there’s a clear need new safety standards that address the distinctive features and risks of e-bikes, ensuring their safe integration into the transportation framework.

Moving Forward

The CPSC’s ANPR is a proactive step towards crafting a safer future for e-bike users. This early stage of regulatory development is designed to gather insights and open a dialogue on the best paths forward for e-bike safety regulations. The CPSC’s objective is clear: to enhance safety standards while recognizing the growing role e-bikes play in modern transportation. Performance requirements, technological innovations, and market trends will all be considered to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework.

As this process unfolds, the voices of consumers, manufacturers, and safety experts are invaluable. The feedback and commentary provided on the ANPR will be instrumental in refining the exact requirements for the final rule. This collaborative effort is pivotal in ensuring that the resultant regulations balance safety with practicality, thereby facilitating the integration of e-bikes into our daily lives as a safe and sustainable mode of transport.

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