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The number of fires stemming from the lithium-ion batteries commonly found in electronic bikes (e-bikes) is rapidly rising, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2022, at least 19 people died in the United States because of fires or overheating incidents related to battery-powered products. In New York City alone, the batteries caused 216 fires, resulting in 147 injuries and six deaths in 2022.

Why Do Lithium-ion Batteries Combust?

Lithium-ion batteries have grown in popularity because they charge faster, last longer and have a higher power density in a lighter package than traditional battery technology. However, they are extremely sensitive to high temperatures and inherently flammable. Due to this heat sensitivity, these batteries tend to degrade quickly, potentially resulting in fires that can cause widespread damage, injuries and even death. In addition, an impact from a crash, improper use or manufacturing issues could lead to short-circuiting or other failures that may result in the combustion of these batteries.

Regulations

While there are currently not many regulations concerning e-bikes, lawmakers and federal regulators in the United States are taking note of the risk lithium-ion batteries pose. Proposed regulations may require devices to be certified under the safety standards recommended by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which has produced safety certifications for electrical products for over a century. In fact, the New York City Council recently passed legislation requiring all e-bikes rented or leased in the city to be certified under the appropriate UL safety standards. Uncertified or used batteries are also banned under local laws. In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission asked more than 2,000 manufacturers, importers and retailers to voluntarily adhere to UL safety standards, as they significantly reduce the risk of injuries and deaths from micro-mobility device fires.

Prevention

The following can help prevent an e-bike fire from occurring:

  • Never use an off-brand or after-market replacement battery or charger. Cheap, high-voltage options are the cause of many fires.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. When charging, storing and maintaining an e-bike battery, the manufacturer’s instructions should be adhered to before taking any action or making any decisions.
  • Don’t store e-bike batteries with a full charge. The more charged a battery is, the more fuel there is for the chemical reaction that causes fire.
  • Charge e-bike batteries away from flammable materials. E-bike batteries should be charged away from furniture and should not be charged or stored in a location that blocks access to exits.
  • Contact the manufacturer directly with any issues. Most companies will replace faulty batteries as long as they haven’t been tampered with. Take pictures or videos to send to the company’s support team.
  • Don’t mess with the battery. Only someone with specific e-bike battery training should be servicing and replacing batteries.

As owning and operating an e-bike becomes more popular, taking precautions is important to remain safe.

For more risk management resources, contact INSURICA today.

This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2023 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

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