Darkness had fallen. And there I was, rolling uptown through fog and rain, out of Chelsea along 12th Avenue in an old Citroën with yellow French headlights, quietly thinking, “I must be the nuttiest guy on the road.” Suddenly, an even more lunatic road user overtook me: a young man in business dress riding an electric unicycle. He had a briefcase clutched under one arm and a phone in his other hand, traveling close to 35 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic with nothing but dim streetlamps to light his helmetless way along the greasy thoroughfare. As a steady drizzle fell, the chap—who, in fairness, was either extraordinarily athletic or benefiting from some sort of gyroscopic assistance—startled driver after driver, managing to remain upright, though at great risk to himself.

Such experiences are common these days. Adding vast numbers of bikes, e-bikes, gas scooters, electric scooters, motorcycles, and, yes, electric unicycles to streets already congested with (often badly driven) cars, trucks, and buses—not to mention the millions of often inattentive and electronically distracted pedestrians—may trim harmful emissions. But the new transport options have also ramped up the sense of chaos on the roads, presenting horrifying new opportunities for operators to hurt themselves and others.

E-bikes would be a boon to congested cities, except riders frequently flout the rules of the road.

Statistics back up these concerns. In October, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (C.P.S.C.) reported that injuries arising from the use of micro-mobility devices rose almost 21 percent from 2021 to 2022, with 46 percent of estimated e-bike injuries, many of them traumatic, from 2017 to 2022 recorded in 2022. Such injuries, according to the C.P.S.C., accounted for 360,000 emergency-room visits in the five-year period, and more than 230 deaths, a number the commission believes greatly understates the severity of the problem.

But injured operators are not the only issue. Pedestrian deaths have soared to record highs nationally in recent years, according to a 2023 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which cited speeding, impairment, darkness, a lack of sidewalks on roadways, and the dramatic increase in the number of “light trucks”—pickups and S.U.V.’s—as likely factors.

Many will have seen the danger with their own eyes. Last year, my 15-year-old son came upon a pedestrian who had been struck and killed by an e-bike when crossing a bike lane on Ninth Avenue. Arriving seconds after the accident, he couldn’t tell who was at fault, but the consensus at the scene was that it was due to the pedestrian forgetting to look right coupled with the rider’s going too fast. Meanwhile, in the two-year period ending December 31, 2022, on a single stretch between Third Avenue and Smith Street in Brooklyn, 48 accidents were recorded, with 11 cyclist and six pedestrian injuries—the cause in many of the cases being a bike lane that disappears without notice to facilitate motor-vehicle traffic.

And then there are the fires started by faulty batteries, which claimed 17 lives in New York City last year, an alarming statistic that is tempered by the fact that most have been linked to faulty, low-priced, off-brand Chinese batteries. Stricter regulation is surely needed and the threat shouldn’t be minimized, as the popular Web site Electrek points out, while noting, “Compared to battery fire deaths, New Yorkers are 176x more likely to die from a drug overdose.”

As an owner and user of bicycles, scooters, e-scooters, mo-peds, bicycles, e-bikes, and cars, and with a lifetime spent as an avid pedestrian, I like to think I have a broad handle on a situation that lends itself to finger-pointing despite vast swaths of gray. As I see it, there is enough blame to go around, but several problems stand out:

  • Many e–mobility devices are too fast. Putting aside the alarming fact that the fastest electric unicycle currently for sale can kiss nearly 90 miles per hour, bikes and scooters that can routinely exceed 30 miles per hour pose new dangers versus traditional pedal bikes and foot-powered scooters. Statistically, young riders unfamiliar with these elevated speeds are at particular risk, but so is everyone who forgets that the faster you go, the longer it takes to stop, and the more quickly decisions must be made. And the more it hurts when your mad run is suddenly cut short.
  • Vehicles are too heavy. While 80 percent of U.S. vehicle sales were sedans in 1975, pickups, S.U.V.’s, and crossovers accounted for 79 percent of the so-called light-vehicle market in 2023. Compounding matters, the fact that such trucks are both taller (and therefore difficult to see out of) and heavier than ever—pickups, for instance, weighed on average 32 percent more in 2021 than they did in 1990—doesn’t help.
  • There isn’t enough regulation. A larger solution to the problems considered here—namely, a consistent federal regulatory framework as opposed to the wildly varying local regulations that currently exist—would inevitably be expensive and time-consuming, and probably litigious, so the pessimist in me sees rough sledding ahead. But licensing riders and their e-machines, which ought to be registered and licensed like any motor vehicle, would be a good start. Imposing minimum-age limits on machines and requiring better helmets for faster e-bikes and scooters also seem to be no-brainers.
  • Existing regulations aren’t enforced. A typical day in New York City sees an e-bike rider—or scooter operator—with headphones but no helmet or headlights entering an intersection and stopping, not to admire the view but because he has ignored a red light while already going the wrong way down a one way-street and has now belatedly discovered there is traffic passing on the road he wanted to cross. The drivers announce that they aren’t happy to see him there, which leads the rider to flip the bird back at perfectly rational, law-abiding travelers. This rider is emblematic of a new breed of road user—someone who evidently believes themselves immune to the laws of physics and is prepared to confront 4,500 pounds of hulking S.U.V. with only their body, 60 pounds of e-bike, and a pair of jeans that should’ve been in the laundry weeks ago. Sorry, freedom-lovers, but tickets need to be written.
  • There aren’t enough bike lanes and pedestrian-only spaces. Manhattan’s soon-to-be-enacted congestion zones may help, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Time has shown that cars and pedestrians, like trucks and e-bikes and scooters, just can’t get along very well. With earbuds in place, everyone is more distracted now. And with drivers more isolated than ever in higher-riding chariots, with ever more entertainment options to choose from, the need to separate the parties is as glaring now as it has ever been.

Things are unlikely to improve anytime soon, and until they do the C.S.P.C.’s safety tips for riders are worth remembering. They may seem obvious, but wearing a helmet, being mindful that others aren’t able to spot you as easily on a noiseless, two-wheeled vehicle, and learning how to navigate potholes with small tires could truly be the difference between life and death.

And it certainly can’t hurt to be good to one another. One hundred years ago, the automobile industry successfully sought to place blame on pedestrians (resulting in a parade of anti-jaywalking campaigns and laws) for the alarming rise in injuries and deaths that came with the rapid motorization of society. As the number of ways we have to convey ourselves from one place to another continues to proliferate, it’s clear that blame doesn’t do much good for anyone. However you haul yourself around, and whatever you’re in or on, please be careful out there.

Jamie Kitman is a car columnist at AIR MAIL