A senior police officer has said the NSW Government needs to tighten rules on e-bikes.

NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Command Northern Sydney Sector Inspector Stuart Forbes (main image, left) made the comments about the need for tighter regulations on e-bikes at the launch of an e-bike safety campaign yesterday morning (Monday, 13 May) by Northern Beaches Council at Manly Beach.

Community safety concerns over e-bikes has been mounting, with seemingly flagrant flouting of the rules on use of electric powered bicycles. Former NSW Police officer and now Curl Curl Ward Councillor David Walton (image below) first raised the issue at Council in March 2023, with unanimous support for Council to look at the issue.

Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor David Walton

Matters raised before Council include concerns over:

  • 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
  • Setting an appropriate maximum size and weight of an e-bike to reduce risks to pedestrians
e-bike safety campaign launch at Manly Beach

With a rapid adoption of e-bikes on the Northern Beaches, Northern Beaches Mayor Sue Heins (image above, right) said Council was the first Local Government in Australia to address the issue.

“We’re leading this space by implementing a behavioural change campaign and educational resources aimed at young people and their parents, and further reassuring our community that we are taking all possible action within our power to keep them safe.

“We’ve had to act swiftly with the rapid influx of e-bikes on our streets and in the absence of legislative change of the road rules by the State Government.

“We strongly advocate for cleaner forms of transport like bike riding because they are good for our physical and mental health, and the environment, but we know members of the community no longer feel safe walking on our footpaths and there have been some serious collisions and many near misses. Unfortunately, we don’t want it to be a matter of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ someone will get seriously injured or worse.

“We’re hoping to target young riders through a digital, social and outdoor campaign and signage across our shared paths detailing ‘the code’ or tips that motivate safe behaviour when riding these bikes,” said Mayor Heins.

e-bike safety campaign launch at Manly Beach

The education campaign being introduced by Council is called ‘know the e-bike code‘, which encourages three behaviours:

  1. Slow down to walking pace when others are on the path
  2. Ring your bell and call ‘on your right’ to let others know you are approaching
  3. Be ready for sudden changes — people, pets and prams can be unpredictable
NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Inspector Stuart Forbes

Acknowledging and reinforcing the benefits of the education campaign, Inspector Forbes (image above) said NSW Police were seeing an increase in complaints relating to e-bikes.

“We’re sending a clear message: safety and following the road rules is everyone’s responsibility.

“Since July last year, we have had hundreds of reports and complaints involving e-bikes in the Northern Beaches Police Area Command. Highway Patrol continue to be proactive in education and enforcement with e-bikes,” said Insp Forbes.

e-bike safety campaign launch at Manly Beach

Asked by the Northern Beaches Advocate what challenges police are having with e-bike safety, Inspector Forbes said the age of riders was the biggest issue.

“Age really is the predominant thing that sticks out. Parents are buying the bikes for the younger audience, which is great.

“They become problematic when they exceed the speed limit, they are going too fast and they’re putting themselves at risk. They’re not wearing a helmet, and they’re not wearing protective clothing,” said Insp Forbes.

Two boys riding an e-bike without a helmet

“If they come off at high speed, they will seriously injure themselves, and head injury is quite catastrophic. So we need to make sure that they’re actually doing the right thing.

“With the younger audience, they need to get up to speed, to make sure that they understand and respect the rules that society has put in place. With police enforcement, we just have to keep on targeting offences.

“From March 2023 to March 2024 in this area, from Manly right up to Palm Beach, there has been 244 offences. We are now strategically looking at what we’ve got to do to enforce it even harder,” said Insp Forbes.

e-bike safety campaign launch at Manly Beach

Asked whether an illegally modified bike could be confiscated, Inspector Forbes said it was complicated under current legislation.

“There is an ability to do that, but there’s complications on how we can go about confiscating. There’s legislation around it, but there’s probably some things we need to look at,” said Insp Forbes.

Council has acknowledged the limitations of its powers in the area of regulating e-bikes and has called on the NSW Government to take more action on the issue, writing to NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen.

James Griffin

Manly MP James Griffin (image above) said he has also raised the issue, sharing a reply he received from Minister Haylen in response to concerns he raised on behalf of a constituent.

“The Minns Labor Government recognises that NSW falls behind many other Australian jurisdictions and international cities when it comes to the use of micro mobility devices. We know that in many locations they offer a safe, affordable and dependable way to move around.

“The enforcement of rules relating to the use of e-bikes and e-scooters is a matter for the NSW Police Force. If [constituent] would like to report an incident, she may wish to contact her local police station”, wrote Minister Haylen in reply to Mr Griffin’s letter.

Michael Regan

Member for Wakehurst Michael Regan (image above) and Member for Pittwater Rory Amon (image below) have both raised the matter of regulation of e-bikes and the enforcement for their respective electorates in the NSW Parliament.

Statistics provided to Mr Amon in response to a question he asked on the issue in NSW Parliament revealed of the nearly 12,000 fines issued for not wearing a bike helmet in NSW since 01 July 2022, 59 had been issued in Pittwater.

No fines have been issued for any bike rider carrying more passengers than allowed, and no fines had been issued to any e-bike rider found exceeding a speed limit, or riding negligently.

Rory Amon speaking in NSW Parliament

Mr Amon put a notice of motion before the NSW Parliament last week, calling on the NSW Government to act on e-bike safety. In a speech to the NSW Parliament in March, he called for legislative change to allow Council rangers to be empowered to issue infringement notices for e-bikes.

“We are seeing a surge in people of all ages, but particularly younger people, buying and using e-bikes. In large swathes of Pittwater, we too often see young people riding around on e-bikes designed for rural properties, with maximum speeds of 60 km/h.

“In simple terms, the maximum legal speed for an e-bike or pedal-assist bike is 25 km/h, so those mini motorbikes pose safety risks. We see young people riding at high speeds, without helmets and with multiple young people on the one bike.

“We see e-bike riders speeding on footpaths, typically with the elderly or parents with young children in the firing line. Every day I receive more reports of accidents and near misses involving e-bikes. An additional challenge is that e-bikes do not benefit from third-party personal injury insurance in the same way as drivers of cars or riders of motorbikes,” said Mr Amon.

Rory Amon speaking in NSW Parliament

“That means every accident involving an e-bike puts individuals’ and their families’ livelihoods at risk, not only because of the devastating impact of injury on the rider but also because of the legal liability for the injury of another.

“No-one likes a nanny state, and rules must be proportionate to the relative risk of harm associated with a given activity. In this case, the regulation of e-bikes has not kept pace with the associated risks.

“The safety issues need to be addressed, and that will happen through better regulation and enforcement. In January I wrote to the Government to urge it to provide NSW Police with greater resources for enforcement, to fund a public education campaign and to consider how it can better regulate the space. In respect of enforcement, police do not seem to be given the support they need.

“It is clear that the Government needs to provide more support to our police. Council rangers should be empowered to issue bike-related infringement notices,” said Mr Amon.

e-bike safety campaign launch at Manly Beach

Until such time as Council is given the authority to act on e-bike compliance, the education campaign is designed to inform the public, particularly young people, of their responsibilities.

More information about e-bike safety is available at Northern Beaches Council’s website. Council also released the following fact sheet:

  • E-bikes are subject to the same road rules as bicycles. To be considered a bicycle it cannot be propelled exclusively by a motor. In Australia, e-bikes must not assist pedalling past the speed of 25 km/h.
  • Under 16s are legally allowed to ride on footpaths, and they can be accompanied by an adult
  • Bicycle riders must keep to the left on footpaths and give way to pedestrians
  • All bicycle riders must have a bell on their bike to warn others of their approach and wear a helmet
  • While e-bikes sold in Australia meet the legal requirements, there is currently no quality control over e-bikes purchased and shipped from overseas retailers
  • Personal e-scooters cannot legally be ridden on public roads and paths in NSW, only on private property
  • Bicycles are not allowed in pedestrian malls such as The Corso at Manly

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate, Northern Beaches Council (Salty Dingo)

Editorial note: (main image, L-R) NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Command Northern Sydney Sector Inspector Stuart Forbes, Bicycle NSW CEO Peter McLean, Stella Maris College Manly students, Stella Maris College Manly Assistant Principal Wellbeing Amy Smith, Northern Beaches Mayor Sue Heins.

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