Battery Fires, Deadly Crashes

LITIHIUM-ION BATTERY fires in New York City have grabbed attention, prompting the City Council to prohibit the sale of e-bikes, e-scooters, and batteries that don’t meet safety standards. Another measure would create a trade-in program to allow people to exchanged uncertified devices and batteries for safe versions. The city also plans to pilot a $1 million program for five e-bike battery charging stations. At the same time, New York City established rules to encourage cargo e-bikes for deliveries instead of trucks and launched an e-bike public safety campaign. There were 23 fatal e-bike crashes in the city last year, up from nine in 2022.

Battery fires are typically the result of modified, non-certified third-party batteries, Sam Rockwell, executive director of Move Minnesota, said. That could be addressed through a program where a dangerous battery is turned in for a discount on a certified battery.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in March voted unanimously to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to “address the risk of injury associated with the mechanical hazards” of e-bikes. “This is an important step forward in evaluating e-bikes holistically,” Commissioner Mary T. Boyle said in a March 12 statement.

The effort extends beyond the CPSC’s work conducting a separate rulemaking related to batteries and battery fires. The CPSC has urged manufacturers and importers of micromobility devices to follow voluntary Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards while it develops lithium-ion battery requirements, which are not expected until next year.

“While traffic safety is a key part of the equation, the weight, speed, and acceleration of e-bikes, among other issues, undoubtedly played a role,” Boyle said in the statement. “E-bikes are regulated under the same rules as traditional pedal bikes in terms of structural integrity, assembly, and brakes. Congress gave the Commission authority to issue separate regulations on e-bikes more than two decades ago, but to date, the Commission has not examined the need to adopt separate regulations.”

PeopleForBikes responded to proposed rulemaking to address the risk of injury associated with e-bikes, focused on five main issues, including federal adoption of the three-class e-bike system, lack of research into how power output should be measured, and products marked as e-bikes that fall outside the federal definition.

A recent survey by UL Standards & Engagements found that most owners of e-bike engage in risky behavior, like charging batteries beyond a full charge and charging them overnight.

There were an estimated 53,200 emergency department e-bike-related visits from 2017-2022, with 3,538 reported in 2017 compared with 24,335 in 2022, according to the CPSC’s report, Micromobility Products Related Deaths Injries and Hazard Patterns, 2017-2021. CPSC staff estimated that e-bike-related incidents comprised 15 percent of the overall micromobility injury estimate. During the same period, there were 104 fatalities compared with 53 fatalities from 2017 through 2021.