New York City e-bike couriers still have to dodge traffic, but to reduce the risk of lithium battery fires endangering their lives, city councillors have mandated that all e-mobility devices sold in the city must have drive systems certified to the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standard.
The new rules came into force last month, with a separate trade-in program aiming to get older e-bikes with uncertified batteries off the streets.
Lithium battery fires have killed 14 people and injured 93 others in New York this year, writes the New York Times. And according to Grist, The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) identified a fire hazard in “almost half of the 59 e-bike incidents that it chose to investigate last year.”
Detailing these hazards in a letter to all manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of micromobility devices in the country, the CPSC wrote last December that from January 1, 2021, through to November 28, 2022, it received reports from 39 states of at least 208 micromobility fires or overheating incidents. At least 19 deaths resulted from these incidents, including five associated with e-scooters, 11 with hoverboards, and three with e-bikes.
The CPSC urged recipients to ensure that all micromobility devices are designed, built, and certified for compliance with relevant safety standards. The agency said compliance must be certified by an accredited testing laboratory, and recommended UL as its benchmark standard.
“Consumers face an unreasonable risk of fire and risk serious injury or death if their micromobility devices do not meet the level of safety provided by the relevant UL standards,” the commission added.
The relevant standard in the U.S. and Canada is UL 2849, established in 2020, writes Grist. It “examines a bike’s electric drive system for fire risk, charging performance, and performance in extreme cold and other conditions.” Separate standards apply to batteries and general mechanical components.
The e-mobility industry took the CPSC warning seriously. Inquiries about UL 2849 testing and certification have gone up substantially, a UL Solutions representative told Grist. The number of companies accredited has nearly doubled in the last year.
But tweaking bikes made in Europe—where the EN 15194 safety standard is geared to less powerful motors—to fit the UL 2849 standard, could become an issue. And with the price tag of developing and certifying a drive system around US$200,000, small manufacturers “may find the cost prohibitive.”
A more immediate problem will be the “inventory backlog of bikes that already are built to high standards but not UL2849,” and can no longer be sold in NYC, Grist says.
There is also the reality that safety certification against suddenly flaming drive systems will do nothing to prevent accidents and crashes. But it will still allow consumers to shop “more discerningly,” writes Grist, noting that certification should be obvious on each e-bike in the form of a diecast mark or sticker. Bike shops and direct-to-consumer websites should also be able to point buyers to models that meet the UL 2849 standard.