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California School District Mulls Teen E-Bike Restrictions

In response to potentially over-powered electric bicycles, the board of the Tamalpais Union High School District in Marin County may require high school riders to register their steeds to park them on campus.

A row of electric bicycles, docked at a rental service.
(TNS) — A Marin County high school district is considering restrictions for teenage commuters on overpowered electric bicycles at its campuses, as California legislators pursue an only-in-Marin pilot plan that would outlaw operation of a powerful class of e-bikes by riders under age 16.

In a presentation Tuesday before the board of the Tamalpais Union High School District, Michael Norton, chief of the Central Marin Police Authority, proposed that that starting in the fall, all students riding e-bikes to the district's high schools — Tamalpais, Redwood, Archie Williams, Tamiscal and San Andreas — be required to register their vehicles with the schools in order to park in bike racks on campus.

There may also be an education and safety requirement to the registration, for both students and parents — who additionally may be required to sign a letter stating that their children will not have access to an app or other capability that allows modification of an e-bike motor to increase its speed beyond the legal maximum of 20 mph, as dictated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Norton's action was mainly in response to Class 2 e-bikes — one of three types of motorized bicycles designated by the DMV.

Class 1 are pedal-operated with a maximum power of 750 watts in an electric motor and a maximum speed limit of 20 mph. Class-2 e-bikes add a throttle on the handle that can propel the e-bike to 20 mph before the motor shuts off. Class-3 e-bikes lack a throttle, but the motor is more powerful to reach a maximum speed of 28 mph.

There are no age restrictions for Class 1 and 2 bikes, but an operator must be 16 to ride a Class 3. No license is required to operate any of the three classes.

But Norton said some e-bike models are being marketed to kids and parents as Class 2 e-bikes when they are actually either Class 3 e-bikes or e-motorcycles, which have a power capacity beyond the maximum 750 watts and can exceed the maximum 20 mph speed for Class 2 models.

The existing e-bike laws are not being consistently enforced in Marin for several reasons, including lack of public awareness and lack of police resources, according to Norton and county bike activists. But Norton said an outreach program is underway to educate parents, and that after a grace period, existing traffic laws will be enforced against underage operators of Class 3 e-bikes and e-motorcycles, which require a driver's license with motorcycle enhancement. In order to enforce the laws, police plan to work with the school districts.

"We're not against e-bikes. They cut down on traffic. But if something is illegal we cannot look the other way," Norton told the board.

"I feel bad for the parents who have spent all this money" on e-bikes, he said. "But ... we have to enforce the vehicle code."

Norton's staff did not respond to a Chronicle request for details about how the e-bike control plans would be implemented. School board President Leslie Lundgren also did not respond to a request for comment about her position on the plan and how it would be carried out.

Tamalpais Union Superintendent Tara Taupier told the Chronicle that the program was still being worked out with law enforcement and "we are not ready to share the details."

The Central Marin Police Authority covers Larkspur, Corte Madera and San Anselmo. Also at the school board meeting, and working in tandem, was a representative of the Mill Valley Police Department.

Meanwhile at the state level, Assembly Bill 1778, sponsored by Assembly Member Damon Connolly of San Rafael, has cleared committee and is headed to the Assembly floor for action. If passed, it would allow Marin County and its towns and cities to pass resolutions to make it illegal for anyone under age 16 to operate a Class 2 e-bike.

According to Bob Mittelstaedt of the Marin County citizen group E-bike Access, the majority of e-bikes ridden to schools are sold as Class 2, but most brands are capable of going faster than the Class 2 limit of 20 mph.

"This is an important safety issue," he said. "Marin County's health department reports that the accident rate for children on electric devices is nearly 10 times the rate for older age groups even though the accident rate for conventional bikes is roughly the same across all age groups."

According to the presentation by Norton, the majority of all e-bike accidents in Marin County involving injury are caused by riders between the ages of 10 and 16. These students often are not aware of traffic laws, do not wear helmets — though it is required of anyone under 18 — and often ride more than two people at once, according to a police department survey.

If passed, AB 1778 would be voluntary at both the Marin County and city level, meaning local governments must choose to opt in. If the Marin County Board of Supervisors were to approve it, AB 1778 would govern all unincorporated areas but could not be enforced in towns and cities that reject it.

It would require Marin County to file a comprehensive report by Jan. 1, 2028, as to its effectiveness in reducing accidents while increasing traffic safety. As a pilot program, it would be looked at for possible broadening as a statewide bill.

"AB 1778 represents a proactive step towards promoting the safety and responsible usage of Class 2 electric bicycles, particularly among our youth population," Connolly said in a statement. "By empowering local authorities with the flexibility to implement targeted measures, we can work towards creating safer and more sustainable transportation ecosystems for all residents of Marin County."

Another Assembly bill, 2234, would create a pilot program in San Diego County with more sweeping restrictions: It would allow the county and its local governments to prohibit anyone under 12 from riding a Class 1 or Class 2 e-bike. It would also require e-bike riders who don't have a valid California driver's license to take an online safety training course and test and carry a state-issue operating license with photo while riding an e-bike.

That bill was introduced in February by Tasha Boerner, who represents the San Diego County coast. It is still moving through the committee stage.

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