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Around 900,000 e-bikes and pedelecs are now using the roads in Germany. But this trend also harbours new risks. Many cyclists are also unaware that they are travelling without insurance cover
© dpa picture -alliance / Westend61 / Robert Niedring
Autonomous Vehicles

Pedelecs and e-bikes - the underestimated risk

Around 900,000 e-bikes and pedelecs are now using the roads in Germany. But this trend also harbours new risks. Many cyclists are also unaware that they are travelling without insurance cover.

11.04.2012

The wind is always in your face – this old cycling adage no longer applies for every cyclist. That's because if you push firmly on the pedals of a pedelec (Pedal Electric Cycle), you have a built-in tailwind to call on. A small electric motor helps you pedal up to a speed of 25 km/h before cutting out. Last year in Germany alone, 300,000 cyclists couldn't resist this luxury, and switched over to pedelecs and e-bikes. According to estimates, there are approximately 900,000 electric cycles on the roads in Germany. The German two-wheeler industry association expects an additional 400,000 pedelecs and e-bikes to be sold in 2012.

New risks will temper the enjoyment

For some time now, senior citizens have not been the only groups making the most of electric power on their bicycles. The cycle industry is developing an increasing number of sporty products that all appeal to a younger target group. But the boom in electric cycles harbours new risks, as a 2011 insurance study on accident research (UDV - German Insurers Accident Research) illustrates. Not only do pedelecs travel faster on average than standard bicycles, they also reach higher maximum speeds. This results in hazardous overtaking manoeuvres, not only on narrow cycle lanes. In addition, other road users are unable to estimate the speed of cyclists quite so well, a particular source of danger at exits and junctions. Senior citizens or cyclists pulling child trailers are now travelling much faster than we expect from past experience. This can surprise many car drivers and lead to serious accidents.

Is it still a bicycle?

You can now buy various kinds of bicycles with electric motors There are versions with motor support only when pedalling, models with start-up assist up to 6 km/h, or with a motorised drive. There are a total of 6 different classes, depending on the type of drive, the motor output and the maximum speed – and not all of them are treated as bicycles by insurance companies. In particular, you need to ensure whether personal liability insurance is enough for settling a claim, or if the theft of an electric cycle can be included under householders' insurance cover. Many riders are unaware that, on a fast pedelec providing pedal assistance up to 45 km/h, they are no longer travelling on a bicycle. From a legal perspective, it has become a low-power moped that is subject to compulsory insurance. A personal liability insurance policy therefore no longer covers third-party claims in such a case.

Recommendations from the German Council on Jurisdiction in Traffic should clarify matters

Debate up to now has primarily centred on the classification of fast pedelecs, and on the question of how the start assist function should be assessed on standard pedelecs. Depending on the particular viewpoint, there have been calls for a general obligation to wear a helmet, or for the cycle to be equipped with indicators and a brake light. The German insurance industry in particular has pushed for strict regulation in view of the special risk potential. The German Council on Jurisdiction in Traffic, whose recommendations tend to have a strong influence on transport legislation in Germany, recently examined the topic at this year's meeting. What it recommended was that

 

  • cycles with pedal assist and start assist or push assist functions up to 6 km/h should still qualify as bicycles, provided the motor output does not exceed 250 Watt. Riders are recommended to wear a helmet and to take out personal liability insurance.
  • Pedelecs are not suitable for use by children under the age of 14.
  • The government is called on introduce regulations stipulating that fast pedelecs assisting the cyclist up to a speed of 45 km/h should be treated as low-power mopeds, in particular with regard to driving licence regulations, the compulsory wearing of helmets and registration. The industry is called on to develop appropriate helmets for this area in the near future.
  • Since pedelecs are not currently included in any accident statistics, their involvement in traffic accidents should be separately documented in the accident report and then scientifically assessed. If a disproportionately high involvement in accidents is determined, the government is called on to introduce the necessary short-term measures.

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