E-Bikes – The Unexpected Danger
By Richard J. Heleniak
Electric-powered bikes and scooters, though annoying to some, have become quite popular, particularly in urban settings. Relatively cheap, personal transportation which can be parked and stored almost anywhere, E-Bikes and E-Scooters are being used by professionals returning to the office post-pandemic, food and package delivery workers, and kids going nowhere and everywhere all at the same time.
But the recent history of these micro-mobility vehicles in New York City serve as caution and warning to not only owners of E-Bikes and E-Scooters but also to those who live in buildings in which the vehicles are parked or stored – Fire!
The New York Fire Department determined that two recent deadly fires, one which destroyed a three-story house killing one person and injuring ten and the other which started in the basement of a day-care center and injured eighteen children, were caused by the lithium-ion batteries which power the e-bikes.
Lithium-ion batteries, power many of the tools and devices which we handle daily, including cell phones and computers. The problem seems to be, however, that much bigger lithium batteries required by micro-mobility vehicle are subject to significant wear and tear as well as damage from exposure to the elements, which can lead to battery fires. The problem is compounded by the specific chemical reaction used in these batteries, which can create a very volatile, self-heating state which creates high levels of energy which can spread from one malfunctioning battery to other batteries nearby, such as when the multiple bikes are parked in designated storage area or charging rooms.
Experts have concluded that the fire danger is largely created by off-market, refurbished, damaged of improperly charged batteries. Unfortunately, there are no regulations or standards for the off-market or refurbished battery industries, whose products are often sold on-line at prices well below that of the original equipment manufacturers. Experts recommend use of the manufacturer’s original cords and chargers, as it may by very difficult to determine whether the off-market or refurbished battery matched your E-Bikes’ specifications and safety requirements.
In 2022, the New York Fire Department determined that there were 216 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries leading to 147 injuries and 6 deaths. NYFD has shared its experience with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to urge the Commission to promote more safety regulations including restrictions on imported batteries which do not meet American industry standards and calling for recalls of unsafe batteries. From the practical standpoint, it is likely that as use of E-Bikes and E-Scooters increases across the country, so too will incidents of malfunctioning batteries. Hopefully, reporting those incidents to the CPSC will lead to action from the federal agency.
In the meantime, you need to protect yourself. The first step is being aware of the danger. If you own or use one of these vehicles, follow the expert advice and refrain from using off-brand or refurbished batteries and do not use universal chargers. Properly dispose of damaged lithium-ion batteries – do not continue to use them. If you live in a building in which you know an E-Bike or E-Scooter is stored or parked, bring this danger to the attention of building management, and inquire as to the precautions they have taken to protect you and the other tenants. Some buildings have started to provide charging stations and charging rooms. You owe it to yourself to ask building management what they have done to make sure that proper procedures are in place and enforced for the safe charging of the batteries so to protect all tenants.
We truly hope that you do not experience any of these problems. If you or a loved one do have an injury or loss which you think we can help, Messa & Associates is ready to listen and to help in any way we can.
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