Why do we allow our young kids to ride electric bikes, on (either side of) a main road, at up to 35kph, with no helmet, whilst talking or texting on the phone, and with a younger brother/sister, or a friend, sitting straddled over the bike’s cross bar, as a passenger, all wearing t-shirt, shorts, flip flops and big smiles, yet I need a driving license to be on the same road, with my car?
I had to slam on the brakes recently, to avoid 2 such “indestructibles”. Judging by their “we’re cool, nothing happened” grins, these kids had not understood that the gap between them having dinner-with-the-family, and at best, hospital, or at worst, their funeral, was less than 1 second.
There must be a good reason why a motorist is fined so heavily for talking on the phone when driving, and why motorcyclists must wear helmets, and usually choose protective clothing.
Is there something protecting these young cyclists and their impressed young passengers from being in serious personal danger, or from being a danger to others, that I don’t know about?
It’s not about the law
Whilst writing this article, I learned that as of 1st September 2014, the electric bike actually became legal in Israel, enabling regulations and limitations to be imposed. There’s a ray of hope knowing that new bikes should cut off power at 25kph, riders need to be 14+, and a headlight, reflective rear light and bell, and possibly helmets, are now compulsory.
Knowing that the Israeli police and local authority municipality inspectors now have “special powers” to enforce the new regulation I’m “sure” has put everyone’s mind at rest.
Images of a policeman trying to stop a kid who has no ID on him/her, riding a very manoeuvrable bike at up to 25kph (say) that has no ID on it, conjured up memories of the timeless “Tom & Jerry” cartoon series.
I’d like to know what fines or otherwise can be imposed for an electric bike offence, that I’m sure (yeah) must be harsh enough to go viral, acting as a country-wide deterrent. After all, you just need to know someone who “enjoyed” a NIS 1,000 fine for using the phone when driving, to think twice about doing it yourself.
I was riding home last night, coincidentally (?) next to Herzelia cemetery, when 4 happy-go-lucky young girls, each on her own electric bike, all without lights and helmets, sped towards me, together taking up the whole width of the lane. The frustration of the motorist behind them turned close to road rage, as the “Kitta yud paparazzi” taunted him, banging on his car as he slowly overtook.
I looked around for the specially empowered policeman or municipality inspector, and am still looking.
I’m an avid cyclist. It’s not relevant for me if wearing a helmet, or using a bike light at night, is law or not. And even if it is, it’s certainly not easily enforceable. But sometimes, common sense prevails, or at least it should.
I don’t need to check the law to decide if to step off the pavement into oncoming traffic, and by the same common sense, I always wear a helmet when cycling, and always use a front and back light when riding in the dark.
I have a confession to make …
I have to humbly confess that several years ago, I did once ride my bike whilst on the phone; and what a lesson that turned out to be.
The phone was pressed against my right ear as I merrily chatted away, whilst “responsibly” riding on the pavement as I approached that very big Herzelia Pituach road junction. I was already “past the point of no return”, transitioning from pavement to road, as the traffic lights silently changed to green. Without warnng, 3 cars took advantage of their pole position on the grid, accelerating directly into my path, wrestling with each other for first place during that sharp left turn, far more interested in not hitting each other, than looking out for me.
A reflex reaction instructed my left hand, the only one connected to the bike, to squeeze the brake; the front brake. There’s a unique sensation; partly of acrobatics, and certainly of helplessness, when the front wheel locks and you are sent flying over the handlebars. Add a sprinkle of fear, as you see a rotating cavalry of cars charging towards you. Well before I’d hit the ground, I’d formulated a plan, based on multiple rolls and leaps, whilst also unclipping my pedals, to avoid heaven. No Olympic gold for that somersault with a half pike and a twist (the “unclip”), but I lived to write again.
“What’s all the sudden noise?”, queried my mum, in Manchester, “Sounds like the screeching of car brakes and car horns?”.
“Just a traffic jam, mum”, I white lied, silently celebrating that my impromptu plan had worked.
I thanked the concerned motorists who had stopped to check if my body needed repairing more than my now damaged phone, accepted my ribs will be painfully reminding me of this mishap for the next month, (turned out to be longer), and understood, “never again”.
It seems many kids have lost the use of their legs, as walking and simply pedalling to school has been replaced with electric bikes. Have you seen them too, winding through the rush hour traffic at 7:52am, trying to get to school on time? And how the ones responsibly using the pavements choose to dice with death at traffic lights, judging that they can accelerate to the other side of the road before the motorist, who has just seen a green light, actually makes contact.
We unreservedly donate our roads to cyclists 1 day a year, on Yom Kippur, and specifically because there are no cars on the road. As for the other 364 days, will it take a “very unhappy ending”, for either the law to be changed, and when it is, to be enforced, or for parents to simply take responsibility for their own children?
Alternatively, we could simply protect our kids by making every day Yom Kippur.