'Scary' photo on busy Aussie road reignites calls for major licence change

There are increased calls for tougher action on Australia's surging e-bike industry, with some suggesting a new licence classification.

A child in a motorbike helmet at a Redcliffe Peninsula junction on an electric bike.
The child rider of an e-bike believed to be illegal has reignited calls for a crackdown. Source: Facebook

A "scary" photo of a child riding what appears to be a non-compliant e-bike has reignited calls for governments to get tough with a growing problem across the country.

Ed Hore, President of the Australian Cycling Alliance, told Yahoo News Australia we need to get electric bikes that have a throttle and are capable of speeds well beyond the legal limits, off our roads. The other solution is to introduce a major licence change, he says, making anyone who rides one requiring a licence and insurance to do so.

While states and territories have varying rules around e-bikes, they must all be propelled by the rider and cannot be reliant solely on a motor, with their top speeds to be capped at 25km/h.

And while Hore says the main culprits for throttle e-bikes are food delivery riders, people across the country are noticing an alarming trend — children are now riding them.

Photo highlights dangers of trending e-bikes

Addressing photos of a child riding what was said to be a bike in breach of e-bike laws on a busy road in the Redcliffe Peninsula, north of Brisbane, earlier this month, Hore said it was "scary" this sort of thing was happening on our roads.

"It's so dangerous because that kid is riding in busy traffic without the sensibility of [an adult rider]," he told Yahoo.

It comes as Queensland's hospitals report a sharp increase in injuries sustained by children on electric modes of transport. Last year the ABC reported 88 children presented with head, neck and limb injuries in the state linked to e-bikes or e-scooters, way above the 14 children recorded in 2019.

Andrew Kirk, RACQ's principal technical researcher, told the public broadcaster children simply don't have the "spatial awareness" required to ride such vehicles among traffic, a belief Hore firmly shares. While the child in the photo is wearing a helmet, he is not wearing any protective clothing.

A picture of a boy and woman riding e-bikes on a US pavement.
E-bikes are surging in popularity, but how many of them are road legal? Source: Facebook

"We're going to see a death here very soon," Hore told Yahoo, fearing a fatality might cause a knee-jerk reaction from governments who may consider widespread bans that would impact riders of compliant bikes. "These bikes, regularly doing 50-55 kmh/h are the ones that are going to cause issues for everyone else trying to do the right thing," he said, stressing there's nothing more he wants than Australians using modes of transports that aren't cars, but they must do so in a safe manner. "I love e-bikes and I want more kids going to school on legal e-bikes," he clarified.

Communities calling for more action on e-bike problem

Community angst is soaring, with Australians flooding social media with their concerns. One Cronulla resident, where councillors have voiced their concerns over the problem, went as far as describing the problem as “an epidemic”.

Many people are riding what are known as fat bikes, thanks to the e-bike's extra-wide tyres, and residents say they are often seen with several children on board, weaving between footpaths and roads. Last week Sydney Morning Herald Letters editor Pat Stringa described them as "lethal weapons".

A man rides an electric fat bike in the Netherlands
Fat bikes can often exceed 25km/h and many Australians fear they're being used unsafely by children. Source: Getty, file.

Those concerned say it’s only a matter of time until e-bike related deaths climb at a rapid rate.

There is a feeling among Australians not enough is being done by authorities to regulate the bikes, and while police forces across the country undergo sporadic enforcement blitzes, the mode of transport remains bit of a grey area.

In February, Sydney's Liverpool City Highway Patrol said it would embark on a multi-week crackdown on illegal e-bikes and their operation, with an emphasis on "education". A similar "educational" program was agreed on by Sutherland Shire council, however some believe such programs are simply futile at this stage.

Hore says police in Victoria are tougher than in most states on non-compliant e-bikes, with the death of an e-bike rider and a e-unicyclist in February putting the problem under the spotlight.

The e-unicyclist's mother Rita Barella told the ABC her son had tampered with his vehicle to make it go much faster than allowed. She says a licence and registration requirement and tougher regulations may be the only way to protect the public as she feared a ban was simply not on the cards.

"We need to give all law enforcement the ability to be able to stop these people, just like they could stop people on their e-scooters around Melbourne without helmets on," she said.

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