Fire safety of e-scooters must be taken seriously

20 Apr 2022

Love them or hate them, e-scooters are a big topic for Londoners.

For many they offer an attractive form of travel, an alternative to polluting short car journeys in urban areas. Others see them as a total menace, because of the unsafe way they are used by some when ridden illegally on pavements or public roads.

My interest in them are not on the pros and cons of e-scooter use, it’s whether they are safe. Whatever your position on their role as a form of transport we need to first address – are e-scooters a fire risk?

For a number of months I have been tracking the number of incidents of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. What I have discovered is alarming.

In London alone firefighters have been called out to more than 130 fires involving the type of batteries used in e-bikes and e-scooters in little over a year. The breakdown of figures was 44 from e-bikes, 28 from e-scooters and 32 other incidents, including mobile phones, laptops and cases where the e-scooter or e-bike was not identified.

Just recently an e-scooter caused a huge fire and damaged two homes in Eltham. This year has already also seen similar fires in Brixton, Leytonstone, Newham, Willesden and West Drayton.

And fires from these batteries are occurring around the country. The Kent Police and Crime Commissioner recently undertook a survey of fire services across England and Wales, asking how many blazes caused by the vehicles had occurred in the last two years.

The 33 services that responded to this survey revealed they attended 95 e-scooter fires last year – up from 33 in 2020.

The problem is also international. Indeed if anyone really needs convincing of the seriousness of the issue I suggest looking at this article which reports on how at the beginning of this year a massive fire tore through a six-story Bronx building, requiring 160 firefighters to put out the fire.

The situation in New York should be a wakeup call to us all as last year e-bike and scooter batteries sparked 104 fires across the city causing 79 injuries and four deaths.

Fires from e-scooters and e-bikes have a further dangerous dimension as in addition to their batteries having the potential to self-combust when being charged they are often also stored in escape routes such as corridors and communal areas, which can hinder people’s escape from a fire.

So is sufficient action being taken to prevent these fires and hopefully ensure serious fatalities are avoided?

The answer is sadly far too little.

Parliament has certainly acted in one regard – that of banning them from being taken onto the Parliamentary estate. MPs and their staff have been told that: “E-bikes, e-scooters and/or detachable battery packs must not be brought into any parliamentary building for charging or any other reason. This is to prevent the potential fire risk poster by e-scooter or e-bikes.”

So we have the incredible situation that action has been taken to protect the safety of MPs and Parliamentary estate from a fire, but with hardly any action taken to protect the public.                                             

This level of double standards is incredible.

At the very least there needs to be much clearer guidance on the storage of e-bikes and e-scooters. This is especially important in shared accommodation and blocks of flats.

There needs to also be a national safety awareness campaign, highlighting key safety messages such as the importance of never leaving an e-scooter or e-bike charging unattended or while you are asleep.

And almost certainly there needs to be better checks on the standards of lithium-ion batteries before they are sold, or even imported into this country.

It is the taking of these actions which I and Tim Farron have called for, in a joint letter we sent last month to Lord Greenhalgh, the Minister Building Safety and Fire.  We eagerly await his reply and confirmation that action will be taken.

No one likes to predict that serious fatalities will occur if certain actions are not taken, but sadly it is only inevitable that deaths and serious injuries will occur in London and around the country if the dangers from lithium-ion batteries are not fully addressed.

Hina is a member of the London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee

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