Blazing Speed and Blazing Fires: E-bike Fires and Policy Considerations

If you have read or watched the news in the last few months, you know that Associations should consider adopting policies to address e-bike safety issues. Some associations may already have rules prohibiting wheeled recreational devices, like bikes, scooters, and skateboards, from being used in the common area where there are likely to be people walking. Of course, every association wants to avoid a resident or guest from being struck. With the recent trend in e-bikes, where top speeds of e-bikes can be 28 mph or higher, associations should be even more concerned as a crash at that speed is likely to result in some damage to person(s) or property.

There is another e-bike concern that association boards may have not considered—the risk of fires. There has been a rise of resident e-bike fires in which buildings have caught fire and people have died. For example, as of the end of October 2022, New York City Fire Department reported that it investigated 174 battery fires (almost double of 2021 (104 fires) and quadruple of 2020 (44 fires)), 6 people died from e-bike related fires, and 93 people were injured.  How does this happen?  The fires are related to the e-bike batteries which are typically made of lithium, a highly combustible and flammable substance.  If a lithium battery is large enough, water or a regular fire extinguisher may not even work to put out the fire. 

The reason for e-bike battery issues seems to stem from overcharging/overheating, using different chargers for multiple batteries/bikes, and the continued use of beat-up old batteries.  Where is this occurring?  These issues appear to be more common in dense, highly urban areas where commuters and delivery persons are more likely to frequently use e-bikes. 

As one can imagine, an e-bike fire in a condominium development can have disastrous consequences and while these fires may not as of yet (fortunately) be that common in California, associations may want to consider adopting policies or sending residents notices to limit the risk of such fires. Below is an e-bike checklist for associations to consider (which can also apply to any device powered by a large lithium battery, such as scooters, as the risks are the same):

·      E-bike owners should maintain and charge their e-bikes in accordance with manufacturer guidelines.

·      E-bike batteries should not be charging while unattended.

·      E-bike owners should only use battery chargers and adapters approved by the manufacturer. 

·      E-bike batteries should be of reputable quality as even new batteries may cause a fire due to defects or noncompliance with regulatory requirements.

·      E-bike owners should avoid purchasing used batteries or chargers because they may have hidden damage or be of unknown quality.

·      E-bike owners should not charge batteries near other flammable materials. 

·      E-bike owners should not charge batteries in areas of extreme heat, e.g., balconies located in hot, dry areas. If an association’s governing documents prohibit bike storage on balconies, this is a reminder for the association to enforce these violations.

·      E-bike owners and possibly associations should consider owning a foam extinguisher(s) containing CO2, powder graphite, ABC dry chemical, or sodium carbonate on hand to put out lithium battery fires as a standard fire extinguisher may not work.

·      E-bike owners should consider obtaining insurance for their e-bikes because e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles that usually aren’t covered by homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, and because e-bikes aren’t automobiles they aren’t covered by automobile policies. Many insurance companies now offer e-bike-specific policies, including liability insurance. 

As always, please feel free to contact us if your association has any questions or concerns or would like assistance in preparing an effective e-bike policy.

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