Call for more awareness of e-bike risks

An e-bike rider along Sembawang Road on Oct 28, 2016.
An e-bike rider along Sembawang Road on Oct 28, 2016. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The safety of power-assisted or electric bicycles has been called into question following the fatal accident on Thursday night.

MPs called for more public awareness of how the devices should be used, so riders do not pose risks to themselves or others.

At close to midnight on Thursday, a trailer truck hit three e-bike users at the junction of Pandan Crescent along the West Coast Highway. Mr Ang Yee Fong, 25, died at the scene; Mr Ong Zi Quan, 18, died in the hospital; and Marcus Loke, 17, survived.

The trailer driver was arrested.

The accident sparked a debate online about the safety of e-bikes, with some calling for them to be banned, though others said all road users have to be mindful of safety.

 
 
 

Under the current laws, e-bikes are permitted on the roads, but cannot exceed a weight of 20kg or travel faster than 25kmh. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is also expected to announce details on registering them later this year.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, weighed in, saying: "There are certain roads - due to either the speed or the design, or the type of vehicles used in the area, such as an industrial estate - which make them less suitable for bicycles."

"Is there a need to step up restrictions on cyclists in such areas?" asked the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC. He said there could be more education efforts, by the authorities and the cycling community, to teach cyclists how to negotiate the road environment and stay safe.

Mr Ang also questioned if more heavy vehicles can be equipped with collision avoidance warning systems to prevent accidents.

E-bike retailers disagreed with suggestions that the devices are unsafe for roads, adding that they serve a commuting need and are in line with Singapore's car-lite push.

Mr Ong Beng Teng, who runs Singapore Bike City, said: "Many elderly folk use them to travel around. They don't speed and the electric power helps them ride up a slope. Otherwise, they have to dismount and push their bicycles."

It is illegal to modify an e-bike so it can travel above the 25kmh limit. But some do, hitting speeds of between 70kmh and 100kmh. It is not known if the e-bikes in Thursday's accident were modified, though some netizens believe they were.

Between January and August this year, the LTA issued an average of 161 notices a month for the use of illegally modified e-bikes. This was up from the monthly average of 155 last year, 87 in 2014 and 82 in 2013.

The number of accidents involving e-bikes has also risen. Last year, there were five fatal accidents, up from two cases in 2014 and one in 2013. There were also 22 accidents last year resulting in injuries, up from four in 2014 and five in 2013.

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, chairman of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel, said the advent of cycling and personal mobility devices is new in Singapore. Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of an education seminar yesterday, he said the Government will continue to engage and educate users, and that enforcement activities will also continue.

Prof Faishal said: "One death or injury is just (one) too many."

• Additional reporting by Yeo Sam Jo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Call for more awareness of e-bike risks'. Print Edition | Subscribe