E-bike battery fires up 70pc in 2023

Screengrabs from London Fire Brigade
Screengrabs from London Fire Brigade

The number of e-bike battery fires, like the fire depicted in the footage above in Sutton, south London, has risen by 70 per cent in a year, figures reveal.

Campaigners and insurers are calling for a crackdown on e-bike makers with tough new rules on batteries to protect public safety.

Fire crews responded to 70 per cent more electric bike fires across the country in 2023 than the previous year.

In 2022, there were 158 fires linked to electric bikes – a number that had risen to 270 in 2023.

The UK’s 49 fire and rescue services attended 46 per cent more fires linked to lithium-ion batteries for all devices and appliances in 2023 than 2022, according to research collated through Freedom of Information requests by insurer QBE.

It appears that almost a third of lithium-ion battery fires involved e-bikes, with most of the rest electric scooters and electric cars.

Sofia Duarte died in her flat when the lithium-ion batteries on her e-bike (pictured) ignited
Sofia Duarte died in her flat when the lithium-ion batteries on her e-bike (pictured) ignited - UNPIXS

Around 160,000 e-bikes were sold in the UK in 2021; that had trebled from 2017’s figure of 55,000 sales, according to figures compiled by market research firm Mintel last year.

Damaged lithium-ion batteries of the type used in e-bikes pose a fire risk because they release energy rapidly, creating temperatures up to 400C.

Fire brigades have warned that lithium-ion battery fires are extremely difficult to put out, with damaged batteries frequently reigniting after flames appear to have been extinguished.

Adrian Simmonds, at QBE Insurance, said: “We see more fires linked to lithium-ion batteries, which is concerning. They burn differently from normal fires, so people attempting to put them out run more risks of injury.

We welcome the adoption of electric vehicles. To help with a safer roll-out we are calling for more support for fire services to help improve education in dealing with the new risk profile.

“The UK government needs to impose more stringent safety requirements to reduce fire frequency. Increasing awareness of proper maintenance, storage and disposal of lithium-ion batteries is paramount to protecting people and property.”

Calls for a crackdown on low-end e-bike batteries were echoed by the charity Electrical Safety First, which is campaigning for regulations to prevent avoidable deaths.

Lesley Rudd, the charity’s chief executive, said: “E-bike fires are an increasing problem across the country, devastating the lives of those affected and destroying homes. Change is needed now.

“With 11 fatalities alone last year as a result of e-bike and e-scooter fires, the status quo is causing avoidable deaths.

“We must end the current system that allows manufacturers to self-declare their e-bikes and batteries as safe and introduce mandatory independent third-party certification for all e-bikes, e-scooters and their batteries to reduce risk and save lives,” Ms Rudd continued.

“Parliamentary intervention is desperately needed, before more lives are unnecessarily lost.”

Currently, manufacturers and importers can self-certify their products are safe to use and comply with current fire and electrical safety rules.

Electrical Safety First wants a government agency to independently inspect new e-bikes and batteries as safe to use before they can be bought by the public.

Fires are typically triggered when the lithium battery of an e-bike becomes damaged or is charged using the wrong equipment, according to Charlie Pugsley, deputy commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB).

He said earlier this year: “Growing e-bike ownership is a good thing if they help people get around and it supports our climate objectives.

“But what really worries us is the speed and severity of these battery fires when they break out. Each one has the potential to risk people’s lives in the home.”

In December last year, the LFB revealed how a mother and son jumped from the first-floor windows of their home in Ilford, east London, after an e-bike that had been charging burst into flames indoors.

Both survived but had to be treated in hospital. Large sections of the house’s first floor and roof were destroyed.