Should the feds do more for e-bike fire safety?

As e-bike use has increased in Canada, so has the number of fires caused by the lithium-ion batteries that power them.

In Toronto alone, 55 lithium-ion battery fires were reported in 2023, a 90 per cent increase from 2022, said Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg. told reporters in January. In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) received reports of at least 208 e-mobility fire or overheating incidents resulting in at least 19 deaths related to scooters, e-bikes, and hoverboards, according to a report of 2023. Health Canada public notice.

The advisory details how too much heat can build up inside damaged, malfunctioning, or improperly used lithium-ion batteries and result in “thermal runaway,” a process in which intense heat, in combination with the contents flammable part of a lithium-ion battery, causes fires. or explosions that are difficult to extinguish.

It also warns of the dangers of misuse or modification of lithium-ion batteries in electric mobility devices and assures Canadians that the risks associated with lithium-ion batteries are being examined by Health Canada and Transport Canada.

At the moment, safety regulations for e-bikes in Canada are in a gray area; There are no clear rules on the import of safe and high-quality batteries. However, some local government agencies and private sector corporations are taking steps to address fire safety concerns. Some condominiums and apartment buildings have banned the storage of e-bikes and other battery-powered transportation devices, and at least one transit authority has restricted the types of e-bikes it will allow charging on its premises.

Despite growing safety concerns, e-bike use continues to increase and is becoming one of the fastest growing forms of transportation in the world. The Canadian e-bike market size was estimated at $733.4 million in 2022 and is projected to grow at an annual rate of 12.6 percent between 2023 and 2030, according to Grand View Research.

In addition to providing exercise and being more affordable than a car, e-bikes are a form of transportation that does not pollute the air or impact carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming.

TO study from Portland State University’s Center for Transportation Education and Research found that emissions would be reduced by four percent if just five percent of commuters switched their mode of transportation to e-bikes. The Atlantic reports.

Navigating Canada’s e-bike safety regulations is a gray area. The lack of federal regulation around the importation of safe, high-quality batteries adds to the challenge. #bicyclesafety

Anders Swanson, former director and current board member of Velo Canada Bikes, a national non-profit organization that promotes cycling, says that while they don’t have all the answers on how e-bikes should be regulated, they should be incentivized. electric mobility. and security aspects must be put into context.

“Every fire is obviously horrible, but at the same time we know about car accidents and we still drive,” says Anders. “No one wants anyone to get hurt, but it’s really important to look at this holistically and look for the highest level of adoption of best practices that considers both the risks and rewards of electric mobility,” he adds.

Fear of fire has led to some outright bans on e-bikes. CBC News reported that Oberon Development Corporation, a Toronto property owner, banned all-electric personal transportation devices, including electric bicycles, electric scooters, electric unicycles, hoverboards, mopeds, Segways and skateboards at two properties in Parkdale last September. A growing number of British Columbia strata councils are doing the same, according to the vancouver sun. And earlier this month, Ontario’s Metrolinx introduced a new security system policy require all e-bike batteries to meet UL or CE standard requirements for circulation and charging on GO Transit property.

William Leishman, owner of Canadian e-bike retailer Scooteretti, says blanket bans are unfair and insists that lithium batteries are safe when built correctly.

E-bikes are an amazing product, he said. “There are so many people who enjoy it so much that it is changing their lives.” Leishman says better product controls and compliance can solve the fire problem.

Safety rules for electric bicycles

E-bikes are regulated for power and speed by Transport Canada. But when it comes to battery safety, there are currently no regulations governing import standards.

Restrictions on the types of batteries that come with e-bikes or stand-alone aftermarket batteries are still being worked out, said David Thibault, director of Health Canada’s consumer product safety program. So far, the safety agency relies on the public safety notice on electric bicycles to warn consumers not to purchase products that do not meet UL or CE standards.

UL certification is a North American standard that is being adopted in some locations. It is run by an American company, UL Solutions, which backs up its ratings with third-party safety testing. The European standard is CE, where manufacturers self-declare that their products are safe.

The quality and safety of the batteries are not being tested, says Kriti Yadav, director of strategy and operations at Zen Energy, a producer of e-mobility batteries and parent company of Halifax-based e-bike retailer Zen Energy Bikes. The only customs controls at the border are those on battery power, she said.

“You can import anything into the country and get away with it,” Leishman added.

Anyone who has a safety concern about a battery or battery-powered product should complete a customer incident report, Thibault said. “We are still monitoring this. If we receive more reports about a certain type of battery being unsafe, we can take action on it,” he said. The public health advisory on e-bike safety will also be updated if new information becomes available, he added.

Leishman says this is a national issue that needs to be regulated at the federal level.

“Normally, Health Canada would be responsible for enforcing the law. We’re usually a little behind with what’s happening in America. So once the CPSC enforces it, Canada will typically follow suit after that,” Leishman says. “We are not proactive enough,” he adds.

Unfortunately, most electric bikes sold in the country are not UL2849 certified, Leishman says. “Most of them come from China or from places where there are no standards per se, or the importer has decided not to pay that extra couple of dollars to have their product tested.”

Black electric bicycle parked next to trees. Pexels photo by the EVELO team

Some electric bike buyers are aware of the safety issues and purchase accordingly.

Gordon Nore, a retired elementary school teacher and e-bike enthusiast from Toronto, retired his car last year to save on transportation and find ways to get around that were healthier and more environmentally friendly.

After a summer running errands on his old Trek mountain bike, Nore took heart and bought his first electric bike in September of last year. Amid increasing e-bike fire safety incidents, Nore was adamant about purchasing a bike that was safe.

For Nore, this involved purchasing a bike from a retailer that was UL certified. “I read a lot about batteries and asked the salesperson who sold me the bike to make sure I understood everything I needed to use the battery correctly,” she said.

In response to Metrolinx’s new policy, Nore said the requirement that batteries be at least UL certified is completely prudent. “It is possible to get batteries on the market that are not [certified] and I would feel safer as a transportation user knowing that the people who bring their bikes have batteries that have been properly tested,” he said.

While Nore understands the concerns of tenants and owners, if an e-bike user can verify that they are using a properly certified battery, they don’t see the problem with bringing it onto the premises.

Unfortunately, not all consumers are as informed as Nore. But “there is nothing that the consumer is doing wrong,” defends Leishman.

“Every time we go out and buy something, we assume that whoever developed this product or whoever sells it would never put a consumer’s life at risk, right? Unfortunately, people are financially greedy and retailers will take advantage of the consumer.”

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