Despite being hailed by green activists and Democratic lawmakers for their lack of carbon emissions, electric bicycles are coming under fire due to an increasing number of fatal accidents caused by the batteries.
Reports from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) show the lithium-ion batteries that power most E-bikes pose a fire and explosion risk. More cities around the country are dealing with a fast-increasing number of battery fires as e-bikes continue to increase in popularity. According to market research, the worldwide e-bike industry is predicted to rise about 200% to an expected worth of $118.7 billion by 2030.
Matthew Paiss, a technical advisor at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the Battery Materials & Systems group, told the NFPA last year that these micro-mobility devices account for most fires involving lithium-ion batteries.
Fire crews may be able to let an electric vehicle fire burn itself out on the shoulder of the road, but these might be in people’s homes or even high-rise buildings, according to Paiss. The problem needs to be addressed, he added.
Officials in New York City have recently disclosed statistics on e-bike fires and injuries caused by battery fires as part of a push to warn residents about the risks posed by the gadgets.
Reports from the New York Fire Department (FDNY) estimated that 220 fires were caused by e-bikes in 2022, an increase of more than 100% from the previous year, including six fatalities. In New York City, e-bike battery fires have caused 59 fires, over 30 injuries, and five deaths this year.
In February, New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh cautioned that these gadgets are hazardous if not controlled or handled appropriately. They produce a great deal of smoke and flame when they ignite, making it difficult to get out of a room or building quickly.
Kavanagh also said the FDNY would approach the problem from every angle, including enforcement and community outreach.
Last Monday, two children were killed in a devastating fire caused by an e-bike battery in Queens, New York. Firefighters were fast to respond, but putting out flames started by lithium-ion batteries is difficult, according to FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens.
In January, an e-bike started a fire at a daycare in New York City, critically wounding one child and harming two others.
Mayor Eric Adams (D-NY) signed five bills to control the types of lithium-ion batteries supplied in the city in March as part of the city’s effort to prevent the rising number of occurrences.
Adams claimed they would boost safety for everyone who rides an electric bike or scooter.
Major fires caused by e-bike batteries have also occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami.
In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sent a letter to over 2,000 e-bike and e-scooter makers and importers in December, threatening legal action if they did not verify their goods complied with voluntary safety guidelines.
According to a recent report by Robert Kaye, CPSC’s Office of Compliance and Field Operations Director, the number of fires and other heat events involving micro-mobility goods has increased recently. Kaye urged users to immediately examine the product line and check that any micro-mobility devices imported into or marketed in the United States meet the necessary UL criteria. Failure to do so puts American consumers’ safety at risk and may result in regulatory action.
Democratic politicians have made e-bikes a central element of their climate agenda and the quest to decarbonize the U.S. economy. Hence, these safety warnings come at an awkward time for them.
Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Adam Schiff (D-CA) presented the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act last month, which would give Americans a $1,500 rebate on the purchase of electric bicycles. The Senate has a similar bill proposed by Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz.
Panetta argued that encouraging more Americans to buy and ride e-bikes will help mitigate climate change and boost the local quality of life.
Schiff remarked that riding an electric bike is a fantastic way to go around town because it combines the best of both the great outdoors and environmentally friendly travel.