Early data from Germany, the largest EU market for electric bikes, is starting to build a picture on the use of electric bikes and riders’ safety.
While German police began differentiating accident statistics involving ordinary cycles compared to electric bikes (pedelecs) and speed pedelecs last year, the German Insurers Association also conducted a field study to compare travel behaviour and traffic safety of cycles, pedelecs and speed pedelecs.
Germany’s Federal Statistics Office captured data on accidents involving cyclists reported to the police in 2014. The figures were highlighted by insurance company Allianz recently, who pointed out that while an estimated 1.6 million of the 71 million cyclists in Germany rode electric bikes, a higher ratio of 39 of the 396 cycling deaths last year were riding electric bikes.
The data showed that pedelecs fatalities increased with age, with 30 of the 39 deaths in the 70+ age group.
Similar patterns emerged from the ordinary cycle statistics, with the 70-75 age group showing a 20% increase in fatalities, with a total 43, compared to the 65-70 group. The 75+ group accounted for 116 of the overall fatalities for ordinary cycles however, a figure more than two and a half times the 70-75 group.
Injury figures reported 13,898 ordinary cyclists as ‘severely injured’ – classified as those requiring hospital treatment – compared to 624 riding pedelecs. Increases in severe accidents amongst ordinary cyclists rose at 45-50 and then dipped until a marked increase to 1,569 in the 75+ category. In the pedelecs category, the increase is notable at 50+ years, rising steadily to up the age of 75, with 182 severe injuries in the 75+ pedelecs category.
‘Slight injury’ saw 61,818 ordinary cyclists listed compared to 1,560 riding an electric bike. The highest figures amongst adult cyclists occurred in the 45-55 age group of ordinary cyclists, surpassing the number of minor accidents amongst more senior cyclists. A steady increase in the number of slight injuries can be seen as the age groups increase in the pedelecs category however.
Allianz points out that older persons are more likely to injure themselves seriously than younger counterparts, and with the growing market in electric bikes, are keen to highlight the risks to older riders.
The insurance company describe helmets in Germany as ‘unpopular but effective lifesavers’ saying: “The probability of suffering brain damage without a helmet is over double that for someone wearing a helmet. Currently, only 15% of people wear helmets, and this is not acceptable, from our perspective.”
Allianz add that: “40% of serious of fatal injuries suffered by cyclists in collisions with cars are injuries to the head, which are twice as often a result of hitting the head on the ground after the collision than from hitting the head on the vehicle itself.” Allianz add that, across Europe, a third of cyclist fatalities are ‘single vehicle accidents’, meaning no other vehicles are involved – and still advise helmets to be worn at all times.
Separately, but also last year, the German Insurance Association conducted a field study comparing the use of electric bikes to ordinary cycles, alongside measuring their road safety via the number of critical incidents each rider was exposed to. The results were presented as a “current snapshot of the use of electric bicycles in a German city that is suitable for that purpose.”
Video cameras, GPS devices and other sensors were installed on the ordinary cycles, electric bikes and speed pedelecs ridden by 90 participants, all of whom are frequent cyclists and based in the German city of Chemnitz, an area popular for commuting by bike.
49 participants were pedelec riders, 10 rode speed pedelecs and 31 were ordinary cyclists with age groups spread proportionately within each category.
As expected, the trip lengths of s-pedelec users were significantly longer than those of ordinary cyclists and pedelec users (7.2 km per trip for s-pedelec users, 3.5 km per trip for ordinary cyclists and 4.5 km per trip for pedelec users).
Speed pedelec cyclists used their bike more often for work-related journeys than the other two groups (53.6% as opposed to 30.0%)
Where cycling infrastructure was available, it was used in most cases (91.1%).
Contrary to German law at the time of the study however, the s-pedelec users also rode on the cycling infrastructure (13.7% of their km ridden), particularly riding on off-road shared-use paths. All three groups used footpaths on which cyclists were not permitted (7.4% of km ridden), with ordinary cyclists doing this most often (9.7%).
All participants used their bikes most often for work-related trips (30% of all trips), followed by leisure/sport (19.3%) and shopping (16.5%). With increasing age and retirement however, participants used their bikes more for leisure and less to get to work.
The report found few differences in travel behaviour, with the exception of speed pedelecs being used more in a commuting and work capacity and on longer trips. When asked about alternate means of transport, pedelecs and s-pedelec riders saw the car as their alternative means of transport, while ordinary cyclist opted for public transport.
Contrary to the data of the Federal Statistics Office, this study found no statistically significant differences between conventional cyclists, pedelec and s-pedelec users or between the three different age groups in terms of the number of critical incidents in which they were involved.
Despite their higher average speed, s-pedelec users were not involved in critical incidents more often than conventional cyclists or pedelec users, as part of this study.
Where conflicts did occur, most were with cars – occurring when drivers violated the participant’s right of way, pulled out of parking spaces, turned off or did a u-turn.
The report concluded that “it is certainly possible that, although s-pedelec users are involved in similar numbers of accidents to pedelec users and cyclists, their injuries are more serious due to their higher speeds. This is suggested by initial results [data] from Switzerland. “
Both Allianz and the German Insurance Association, with this field study ‘snapshot’, acknowledge that the overall picture is still being built as the popularity of pedelecs increases. Dr Joerg Kubitzki, safety researcher at Allianz, said: “The first meaningful results in terms of the frequency of accidents involving e-bikes [speed pedelecs] won’t be available until 2016’.