The rise of electric bikes (e-bikes) and scooters has changed the way people travel around cities. With the increased adoption of these motorized personal-use vehicles comes a need to address liability concerns. At the 2023 California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) Risk Management Educational Forum, Attorney Christopher Bagnaschi, of Haith Bagnaschi, explored the legal framework and liability considerations surrounding e-bikes, scooters, and similar devices in California.
“People can achieve velocities we haven’t seen before due to e-bikes’ power assist,” said Bagnaschi. “Greater power creates greater risks and greater concerns for liability.”
Micro-mobility vehicles (MVs) are defined as small, lightweight personal-use vehicles operating below 20 miles per hour. According to a 2019 study, MV crashes are three times more likely to cause head, spinal, and internal injuries than pedal-powered bicycles and traditional scooters. The study also stated that e-bike accidents are 17.1 percent more likely to cause riders internal injuries and require hospitalization.
“The seriousness of injuries related to e-bikes and scooters is why we’re seeing an emphasis in regulations surrounding these vehicles,” said Bagnaschi, who explained that the Motor Vehicle Code (MVC) 21200-21212 and the recently enacted California Streets and Highways Code 894 lay the groundwork for regulating e-bikes, scooters, and other personal mobility devices.
MVC 21200-21212 states that bicycle riders have all the rights and are subject to all the responsibilities and duties as drivers of vehicles. California Streets and Highways Code 894 lays the groundwork for the Department of the California Highway Patrol to develop statewide safety and training programs pertaining to e-bikes and scooters.
“One key provision of California Street and Highways Code 894 is that local governments have the authority to restrict the use of e-bikes and bike paths,” said Bagnaschi. “This highlights the importance of enacting local regulations to avoid potential legal issues.”
Liability concerns with e-bikes and personal mobility devices often center on road surface conditions. To mitigate risks, Bagnaschi recommended that public agencies:
- Prioritize road and path repairs. Timely maintenance to address potholes, cracks, and level differences can help reduce accidents and related legal claims.
- Have inspection and maintenance programs in place for inspecting agency roads and sidewalks to report and schedule repairs for hazardous conditions and to minimize the possibility of injury to residents and visitors.
- Include guidelines for documenting and maintaining the records of program inspection and repair processes.
- Along with routine inspections, prioritize road and sidewalk repair reports from residents as part of maintenance protocols.
- Keep agency risk managers informed of any potential liabilities by providing notice as soon as possible.
Bagnaschi ended with, “The bottom line is just good road maintenance: having a solid inspection and maintenance program in place with good procedures for receiving, processing and documenting complaints from the public and documenting any repairs.”
The current reality of e-bike and scooter liability involves a complex interplay between government objectives and the challenges of road maintenance. Finding a balance between safety, innovation, and the legal framework is essential for a more secure and efficient future for personal mobility devices in California.
Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 45 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 125 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive training and loss control services. For more information, please visit the California JPIA’s website at cjpia.org.