It goes without saying that electric bicycles, scooters, and other personal mobility devices are changing the landscape of transportation across the world. This is especially true in large, densely occupied urban cities. The benefits are seemingly endless, with improved mobility, zero emissions, better health, and lower costs only beginning to scratch the surface.
In recent years, however, an issue surrounding the safety of battery-powered personal mobility devices has caused a lot of concern: fires. Indeed, while lithium-ion batteries are sophisticated, high-tech devices that are generally safe, there have been occasions wherein, for whatever reason, they've malfunctioned and started fires. Worst of all, given the materials and chemical composition of lithium-ion battery cells, the fires tend to be extremely difficult to extinguish, resulting in extensive property damage and potential loss of life.
Of course, there are standards in place which guarantee the safety of batteries, as well as other electronic components of electric mobility devices. One of the widest, most accepted certification is that of Underwriter Laboratories (UL), one of the oldest safety certification authorities in operation. When an e-bike or scooter has passed UL 2849 certification, it essentially means that the product has been tested to nationally recognized safety standards, with one of the key parameters being a near-zero risk of fire, as well as electric shock.
New York City, in particular, has been quick to act surrounding the issue of battery-related fires. In fact, the City Council has already passed a law that effectively bans the sale of all electric bikes, scooters, and mobility devices that are not UL-certified. According to an article by Electrek, the city mayor Eric Adams is expected to sign the law in the coming days. Indeed, out of all the cities in the U.S., New York is on the top of the list when it comes to population density. This means that any fire of any nature has the potential to cause a lot of destruction to property, not to mention injuries and death.
In New York City alone, there are hundreds of thousands of e-bikes, e-scooters, and other electric mobility devices, a lot of these are being marketed without the proper safety certifications. That said, the issue doesn't end in safety certifications from the manufacturer alone. The way owners use and maintain their devices is also equally relevant.
Understandably, replacing a battery that has reached the end of its service life can be really expensive, sometimes accounting for a third of the cost of the vehicle. As such, a lot of users turn to third-party technicians with little to no training when it comes to safely repair batteries. On top of that, making use of substandard or incompatible chargers could also damage batteries, potentially causing them to breakdown over time.
With all that on the table, the law surrounding mandatory UL-certification is a solid first step, as the certification doesn't cover just the battery, but the motor, controller, and the chargers, as well.