New report highlights dangers of e-bike and e-scooter batteries

Published

We have all seen the huge increase in use of e-bikes and e-scooters in the UK in recent years and, while there is much heated debate around road safety issues relating to them, there is a more hidden – and potentially more deadly – issue which needs tackling now.

Put simply, there has been a significant rise in catastrophic battery fires involving these products which have ripped through homes and taken people’s lives.

The London Fire Brigade reports being called to an e-bike or e-scooter fire, on average, every two days. And fatal consequences to these fires have been reported nationally, with one tragic incident killing a mother and her two children in Cambridge just last month after an e-bike being charged overnight caught fire.

Causing such devastation is the lithium-ion batteries used to power e-bikes and e-scooters, and the risks involved in buying substandard products or using unsuitable electrical chargers on them.

An explosive fire risk

If a lithium-ion battery bursts into flames, it is unlike other fires. It releases such a huge amount of energy that, in a matter of minutes, your entire home can be destroyed.

In fact, a fully charged e-bike battery has a similar amount of energy stored within it as the amount of TNT explosive contained in six hand grenades.

Our new video shows the ferocity of a lithium-ion battery fire. Under strict laboratory conditions, our experts conducted a ‘nail penetration test’ on a battery cell to trigger thermal runaway. The test resulted in temperatures exceeding 600 degrees Celsius. And even if a fire is extinguished, it’s common for it to start again.

What needs to change

To mitigate such a dangerous risk, our major new report Battery Breakdown calls for e-bikes and e-scooters, and the batteries within them, to be regulated in the same way as fireworks and heavy machinery already are in the UK – something which is already in place in New York City following a spate of fatal fires there.

This would mean these products require third-party approval before being placed on the UK market whereas, at present, e-bike and e-scooters are only required to be self-declared as conforming to safety standards by the manufacturer – the same as for many electrical goods.

Exceptions to self-certification exist for high-risk products such as pyrotechnics, heavy machinery, and medical devices. Adding e-bikes and e-scooters to this list would introduce mandatory third-party approval to ensure they meet essential safety standards.

We need to get on top of this issue now to prevent more lives being lost. There are too many reckless operators in this space, such as third-party sellers on online marketplaces and shoddy manufacturers, who are risking lives and giving responsible manufacturers of these products a bad name.

In addition, our report examines design flaws of many e-scooters and suggests ways to enhance their safety over time, to better protect the battery from damage.

It also calls for the immediate banning of universal chargers to prevent dangerously compatible charging arrangements and damage, better regulation of non-proprietary charging systems, and the introduction of a British standard for e-bike conversion kits.

The UK Government must also act now, by introducing mandatory reporting of e-bike and e-scooter fires in Home Office data, delivering a national campaign on e-bike and e-scooter safety – including safe charging – and urgently regulating online marketplaces where many substandard e-bike and e-scooters are being purchased.

People’s lives are being destroyed by these products. We must take urgent action now before more lives are lost, with tighter rules to ensure only safe products enter the UK market. Our report contains recommendations to protect good businesses, weed out bad operators and save lives.

Download the full report here.

Lesley Rudd is CEO of Electrical Safety First, a campaigning charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electricity in UK homes.

This blog article was originally published on on LinkedIn on 27th July 2023 

Feature Image Source: vecstock on freepik

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