An accident that took two lives recently has drawn urgent attention to the growing usage of power-assisted or electric bicycles. The accident, involving a trailer truck and three e-bike users, resulted in the arrest of the trailer's driver, and has generated public discussion on the safety of e-bikes. Once a novel addition to Singapore's transport scene, they are ubiquitous now and are often seen weaving their way effortlessly through traffic, thanks to an ingenious combination of relatively common components. Unfortunately, that ingenuity is accompanied by danger, particularly on roads where heavy or fast traffic could make adventurous e-bikers a threat to themselves and to others.
Existing laws are clear enough: E-bikes are permitted on roads, but they cannot exceed a weight of 20kg or travel faster than 25kmh. Thus, it is illegal to modify an e-bike so that it can travel above the speed limit - a necessary restriction as it's possible to build e-bikes that can reach speeds of between 70kmh and 100kmh. Given the temptation of souping up e-bikes, it is essential that the authorities clamp down on illegal modifications. Admittedly, close surveillance would be difficult, but it should be possible at least on thoroughfares with cameras to catch speeding motorists.
The analogy with cars is a pertinent one. A more stringent inspection regime was introduced last year for motorists caught with illegally modified engines or exhaust systems in their vehicles. The reason is that tampering might result in the inability of the vehicle's components to handle increased power or speed, affecting its durability and reliability. The same logic applies to e-bikes. A small vehicle commonly used at speeds of up to 25kmh cannot race at 100kmh without some loss of technological balance and user control. It is indeed reckless for riders to turn a blind eye to the laws of physics and to ignore the limits of human reflexes and dexterity, which are reflected in the strictures of the traffic code.
The increasing number of notices issued by the Land Transport Authority for the use of illegally modified e-bikes does not appear to have deterred law-breakers. Not even the rising number of accidents involving such bikes has driven home the crucial message of safety. Tougher action is needed, like making helmets mandatory for e-bike riders and impounding bikes that look patently like motorcycles which require a certificate of entitlement to be on the road.
There is an openness now to different forms of urban transport, including personal mobility devices. Greater sharing of footpaths and roads is also making it possible for people to move about freely in many places. What's implied is a higher duty of care that all must exercise as a necessary part of the new ethos of urban mobility. Irresponsible e-bikers are undermining it by their actions.