Encinitas approves new regulations for e-bike riders

Two riders on an e-bike approach the corner of Valley Street and Basswood Avenue in Carlsbad.
(Phil Diehl / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Offenders now may receive tickets requiring them to attend bicycle safety courses if they put passengers on their handle bars


Teens who decide to give their friends a ride on the handlebars of their e-bikes now may receive the rough equivalent of a fix-it ticket, requiring them to attend a bicycle education course.

The Encinitas City Council unanimously voted to revise the city’s traffic codes and insert new regulations for both e-bike and traditional bike operators Wednesday night, June 14, after receiving a request from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which provides policing services in Encinitas.

“The city has seen a dramatic rise in e-bike collisions over the last couple years,” Portland Bates, the city’s government and community relations administrator, told the council as he explained the proposed changes. “The Sheriff’s Department (has) attributed this rise to younger e-bike riders, rider inexperience and lack of knowledge of the rules of the road.”

Sheriff’s North Coastal Capt. Christopher Lawrence said that 29 e-bike related accidents were reported in 2021, and 25 involved injuries. In 2022, the figure was 44 accidents, with 39 involving injuries.

“This year we started off a little slow and I think that’s due to the (rainy) weather,” he added. “So far, we’ve only had six this year.”

Passenger safety is a particular concern because of the speeds that some e-bikes can travel. However, a fall off a slow-moving, traditional bike also can cause significant injuries, if the person lands head-first on a curb, Lawrence noted.

The new code revisions involve reworking Title 14 of the city’s traffic code, clarifying the regulations related to passengers on bicycles and allowing officers the option of sending first-time offenders to education programs.

Councilmember Bruce Ehlers asked Lawrence how the education programs would be handled, saying, “Is there an existing mechanism, or will we be inventing something new here?”

Lawrence said the officers already send people who are first-time offenders of bike helmet regulations to an education program, and “we’d be following essentially what’s already in place for riders without helmets.”

Council members also had questions about the phrase “public place” in the code revisions, asking if offenders would only receive tickets if they are riding on streets or at city facilities. Lawrence said the code definition also included privately owned areas that are regularly used by the public.

“For instance, the Target parking lot — it’s a private area, but open to the public to traverse through it,” he said.

When an officer sees someone violating the new bike passenger rules, the officer may issue a citation to the rider, but the ticket would be voided once the person completes the education course, he said. When the people bring in their course completion documentation to the Encinitas Sheriff’s substation, particularly if the person is a child, the officers will assess how much the person learned in the class, Lawrence added, calling it “a little opportunity for mentorship.”

Council members asked how the officers would be able to identify younger riders for ticketing purposes, given that they won’t be eligible for the typical driver’s license ID. Lawrence said they’ll ask for school IDs, but they’ll also be contacting the parents.

Henry is a freelance writer.