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Record numbers recorded for e-bike and e-scooter fires in London

04 September 2023

FIREFIGHTERS IN London have tackled more e-bike and e-scooter fires so far in 2023 than they did for the whole of 2022, with e-bikes swiftly becoming the capital’s fastest-growing fire trend. By the end of August, crews had fought 104 e-bike fires along with 19 e-scooter blazes, overtaking the 116 total fires attended last year. This number is higher than in any other year in London.

Photograph: London Fire Brigade

Tragically, three people have lost their lives this year in fires believed to have been caused by the failure of e-bike lithium batteries, while 51 people have been injured. A coroner has now written to the Office for Product Standards and Safety asking for further safety standards to be introduced following the death of a man in an e-bike fire back in March.   

e-bikes and e-scooters can catch fire incredibly quickly if their lithium batteries become damaged or begin to fail. Privately owned e-scooters remain illegal in public places and on London’s roads, but they’re not illegal to purchase.

The London Fire Brigade continues to support the police service’s enforcement activity in order to prevent e-bikes and e-scooters from being used in a dangerous manner.

Further, the London Fire Brigade has been running its #ChargeSafe campaign, which is designed to raise awareness of the fire risks posed by e-bikes and e-scooters and outline what Londoners can do to protect themselves and their livelihoods. The most recent incident witnessed a man taken to hospital suffering from burns after an e-bike fire broke out in Brixton.

Senior London fire officials have called for regulations and/or standards to be introduced for e-bikes, conversion kits, batteries and chargers, as well as the continual surveillance of online marketplaces, where products are being sold that may not meet the correct safety standards.  

The London Fire Brigade strongly believes it’s far safer to purchase such bikes and scooters from reputable sellers, in which case there’s a greater degree of confidence that the product has been built to the required safety standard. e-bikes or e-scooters that have been fitted with batteries or other parts purchased separately online pose a far greater risk.  

In New York, the City Council is set to introduce new laws prohibiting the sale, lease or rental of e-bikes and e-scooters, as well as storage batteries for these devices that fail to meet recognised safety standards.

Incredibly dangerous  

Deputy Commissioner Dom Ellis said: “Unfortunately, we are seeing an ever-growing number of fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters in London. Roughly one every two days, in fact, and already more this year than we saw in 2022. We recognise the environmental benefits they bring to travel in our city, but the stark reality is that some of these vehicles are proving to be incredibly dangerous, and particularly so if they’ve been modified with second-hand products or if batteries are used with the wrong chargers.”  

Ellis continued: “Without urgent research into the causes of these battery fires and proper regulation that will help to prevent people from unknowingly purchasing dangerous products, such as batteries and conversion kits, by visiting online marketplaces, we fear that we will continue seeing a high level of these types of fires in London.”

London Fire Brigade fire investigators have analysed the 73 e-bike fires that occurred in the first six months of this year, and found that at least 40% of those fires are believed to have involved a converted e-bike. At least 77% are believed to have involved the failure of the bike’s battery. Cheaper batteries purchased from online sources which don’t necessarily adhere to UK safety regulations are more likely to fail and cause a fire. That’s particularly the case if they’re not used with the correct charger.   

Meanwhile, at least 41% of the bikes are believed to have been on charge at the time of a fire starting. Using the correct charger for an e-bike or e-scooter battery is vital. They should only be bought from a reputable seller.

Deputy Commissioner Ellis continued: “We know just how ferocious and harmful these fires can be, so if something was to go wrong, we don’t want an e-bike and scooter inside a property. However, we appreciate that, for some people, keeping it inside is the only option. If that’s the case, it’s best to follow crucial safety advice.”  

For example, it’s Best Practice never to store e-bikes or e-scooters by the front door, in a hallway or on any escape route. There can be devastating consequences when an exit is blocked due to an e-bike fire. It’s best to keep them in a room where the door can be shut.

It’s also Best Practice never to charge an e-bike or e-scooter while asleep. Chargers should be unplugged once the vehicle has finished charging.

Regulatory framework

Fiona Twycross, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, explained: “The rising number of e-bike and e-scooter fires that the London Fire Brigade has attended this year demonstrates the need for these vehicles to be stored and charged safely, as well as being built to the required standards. That’s why I’m continuing to call on the Government to introduce a regulatory framework which can help to improve product safety.”

Twycross added: “Transport for London has extended its successful e-scooter rental trial until May next year. We know how important safe and sustainable travel is in our city as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment to building a greener London for everyone.”

New guidance on this issue for landlords and ‘Responsible Persons’ has also been published on the London Fire Brigade’s website. The purpose of this guidance is to provide information for those storing and/or charging electrically powered personal vehicles, such as e-bikes and scooters, within buildings that are covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021.