E-bikes can be dangerous to ride and they can be hazardous to pedestrians. They can also be a fire hazard when when their lithium-ion batteries catch fire, as a growing accident toll proves.
In the latest incident, two children were killed in New York City when an e-bike caught fire while connected to a charger. It was the latest in a string of e-bike-related fires in the city, where there have been 59 e-bike-related fires this year. Last year there were six e-bike-related fatalities.
The bicycle was plugged into a charger near the front entrance of a multi-story building in Astoria, Queens. When it burst into flames, firefighters said the victims “didn’t have a chance to get out of the building” given the intense fire that quickly traveled up the stairs to a second-floor apartment, according to the Washington Post.
Firemen were on the scene in just three minutes but the fast-spreading fire had already trapped the building's occupants, some of whom escaped by jumping out of windows.
“We got here very quickly. And if this was not a bike fire, most likely we would have been able to put this fire out without incident. But the way these fires occur, it’s like an explosion of fire,” FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens told reporters. “It’s an ongoing problem. We implore everybody to please be very careful and aware of the danger of these devices.”
Casualty list is growing
The danger is not confined to New York, although the number of multi-occupant buildings in densely populated cities makes e-bikes more dangerous there than in suburuban locales. Fatal fires have been reported around the globe and little is being done about the problem, other than mostly ignored warnings from fire departments and safety regulators.
E-bikes, scooters and hoverboards account for a growing number of emergency room visits, according to statistics gathered by the CPSC, which found an estimated total of 117,600 visits to the ER from 2017 through 2021.
Injuries severe enough to go to the ER increased from 7,700 in 2017 to
42,200 in 2021. E-bikes accounted for about 11 percent of those injuries.
There were 53 e-bike fatalities from 2017 through 2021.
Preventing e-bike fires
Here are some recommendations from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):
- Always be present when charging devices using lithium-ion batteries. Never charge them while sleeping.
- Only use the charger that came with your device.
- Only use an approved replacement battery pack.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper charging and unplug the device when done.
- Never use an e-mobility device with a battery pack that has been modified/reworked by unqualified personnel or with re-purposed or used cells
- NEVER throw lithium batteries into the trash or general recycling. Instead, take them to your local battery recycler or hazardous waste collection center.