Over the last few years, e-bikes have killed at least 11 people and injured at least 251 in New York City alone, all from fires that sparked from malfunctioning lithium-ion battery-powered devices.
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In 2022, these bikes were the cause of the fourth most fire deaths, according to the FDNY. And in 2023, there have already been 15 lithium-ion battery-related fires, with one person dead and up to 25 injured.
Why are these fires happening?
New York City has had more of these fires than anywhere else in the country because it is so densely populated, and many delivery workers use electric bikes as an easy way to get around.
However, these bikes often need to be charged at home overnight, and many of them have, unfortunately, been designed with cheap and poorly-made batteries that end up exploding and causing these deadly fires.
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The thing about lithium-ion batteries is that the fires they cause differ from normal fires, which is why they have killed so many.
The flames spread much faster and will catch any combustible item within seconds. The batteries cannot be extinguished with water or foam because it can cause a reaction and increase the fire.
Firefighters must use extinguishers explicitly designed for lithium battery fires which contain dry powder, which absorbs the heat and smothers the fire. Compounding the problem with these fires is that they release toxic gases, which pose an extra level of danger.
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What is being done to prevent this?
In New York, Councilman Robert Holden has introduced legislation that would ban electric scooters and electric bikes until further safeguards are in place. However, this is just one form of legislation.
Many politicians in New York are working on proposals that would help decrease the fires without having to completely take the bikes away from delivery workers, such as a bill that would legally make people have to charge their batteries outside their homes.
Also, the New York City fire department has banned e-mobility devices at its headquarters and trained firefighters to respond to lithium-ion battery fires. It is also educating fire departments around the country about the risk.
In late November, the FDNY required landlords in the city to distribute a safety bulletin in residential buildings warning tenants about the potential dangers of charging electric bikes.
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In the meantime, it’s important to note that the vast majority of E-bikes on the market are safe and reliable when used as intended and maintained properly.
The biggest point to remember is to avoid buying batteries that have been damaged or modified as unsafe, as well as those that have not been certified with all the proper safety precautions.
E-bike owners should also avoid using a charger that was not designed for the battery or buying batteries from secondhand stores.
And remember to avoid charging the battery in a place where it might block a fire escape, like a front door or a window.
How do you feel about e-bikes? Should they be banned altogether? Tell us your thoughts.
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