New York City is taking action to address the safety concerns surrounding electric bikes and their lithium-ion batteries. E-bikes without safety certificates are no longer allowed to enter the city. Low-cost models imported from unfamiliar manufacturers are compromising on safety measures, leading to potential hazards, including deadly fires. With an increase in the number of accidents 13 deaths have been reported in the city this year alone. To counter this problem, NYC banned the sale of unsafe e-bikes, but now there is a demand for safety rules across the country to stop illegal imports.
Electric bikes are rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after alternatives to cars for personal transportation, especially in bustling cities like New York City. But still they are stopping them at the border? Restrictions imposed on e-bikes due to deadly fires. The problem lies in the fact that not all e-bikes are made equal.
Premium e-bikes are manufactured to comply with various safety regulations, which encompass the protection of their powerful lithium-ion battery packs. However, inexpensive electric bicycles, frequently imported from unfamiliar or unbranded companies, may compromise on safety measures. This has led to low-quality battery packs that have the potential to catch fire, sometimes causing fatal consequences, even death.
According to the Light Electric Vehicle Association, a prominent industry group, the United States witnessed a remarkable import of approximately 1.1 million e-bikes last year. In 2021, the country received over 880,000 e-bikes, which is twice as many as the previous year and three times the number in 2019.
Reason Behind Bad Batteries
A large portion of the batteries currently in use on the roads are actually aftermarket products. Despite their appeal to delivery workers due to their lower cost, these batteries are often poorly manufactured. Food delivery by e-bike has become extremely popular in New York City as a result of the traffic congestion caused by cars. However, due to their limited earnings and long working hours, delivery riders are frequently compelled to opt for the most affordable electric bikes available.
A shop in New York City caught fire after an explosion in the early morning. The shop was filled with motorized bicycles and their dangerous lithium-ion batteries. Four people tragically lost their lives in their sleep as the thick smoke rapidly engulfed the apartments above the blazing store.
Possible Steps towards Safer E-bikes
E-bikes without safety certificates no longer allowed in NYC because 13 people have died in 100 fires in New York City this year due to accidents involving e-bikes. This is already double the number of fatalities from last year. The city has about 65,000 e-bikes, which makes the problem worse due to their popularity.
In the beginning of the year, New York City implemented a comprehensive prohibition on the sale of electric bicycles that do not meet UL certifications. Tampering with batteries or selling refurbished batteries made from used lithium-ion cells is now prohibited by the latest regulations. The authorities are planning to further expand and create a no entry for non-certified e-bike batteries.
With the increasing popularity of e-bikes, there has been a rise in fires and deaths caused by the batteries. This has led to efforts to improve regulations regarding the manufacturing, sale, reconditioning, charging, and storage of these batteries.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission is being called upon by consumer advocates and fire departments, especially in New York City, to implement nationwide safety regulations and seize non-compliant imports at the border. This measure aims to effectively remove dangerous e-bikes and faulty batteries from circulation, ensuring the safety of our streets and homes.
The issue will be discussed as the commission holds a public hearing on Thursday in Washington. After the accident of battery explosion in a Chinatown e-bike shop last month, NYC Mayor Eric Adams said, “We’ve been sounding the alarm for months. We need real action, not only on the state level, but on the federal level.”
Over the past two years, there have been over 200 battery-related fires reported to the commission from 39 states across the country causing 19 deaths. These incidents involved micromobility devices like battery-powered bicycles, hoverboards and scooters.
Opinion of Officials
Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic Senators from New York, proposed a new law last month. This law would set mandatory safety rules for e-bikes and their batteries. Schumer emphasized that the absence of compulsory standards has led to an abundance of low-quality batteries flooding the United States, consequently intensifying the risks of fires.
Additionally, the officials of New York City have recently declared the reception of a $25 million federal grant to establish e-bike charging stations all over the city. It is expected that this initiative, according to the fire marshals, will significantly reduce the potential fire hazards.
“The fires we’re dealing with are far from ordinary, because in these cases batteries don’t simply smolder but rather explode,” stated Laura Kavanagh, the Fire Commissioner of New York City.
“When they fail, they fail quite spectacularly. Once one of these ignites, there is a huge volume of fire, often so much so that the person in their home can’t get out, and the firefighters can’t get in to get them,” added Kavanagh. She is one of the speakers at the forum advocating for national safety standards and stricter regulations against potentially hazardous devices.
Another speaker Matt Moore, the general and policy council for the PeopleForBikes Coalition said, “But that product is so cheap because it hasn’t gone through those design and testing. It doesn’t meet a standard, so that’s why they’re inexpensive. Even if there was a regulation, there will still be the ability of foreign sellers and manufacturers to send these products into the United States.”
Opinion of Battery Experts
E-bike batteries are similar to the lithium-ion batteries used in cellphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. These batteries have issues with overheating. And this is one of the main reasons behind E-bikes without safety certificates no longer allowed in NYC.
According to Robert Slone, senior vice president and chief scientist for UL Solutions, stricter regulations, safety standards, and compliance testing have greatly reduced the risk of fires in these devices. Find out how to reduce electric bike fire risk?
Robert stated that e-bike batteries can also experience the same situation, as long as they are manufactured in accordance with the established safety regulations.
“We just need to make them safe, and there is a way to make them safe through testing and certification. Given the history that we’ve seen in terms of fires and injuries and unfortunately, deaths as well — not just in New York, but across the country and around the world,” Robert Stone further added.