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"It is almost like having an unexploded bomb in your house": New figures reveal 11 deaths from e-bike fires in UK last year, as MPs call for tighter regulations

Latest calls come soon after London Fire Brigade urged users to check whether their vehicles have "dangerous" UPP lithium battery that has repeatedly "failed catastrophically and caused devastating fires"...

New emergency service figures have revealed that there were 11 deaths in the UK last year in fires caused by e-bikes, a concerning statistic that comes as a Labour MP has led calls for urgent safety action on the sale of dangerous products which have been compared to "like having an unexploded bomb in your house".

The latest Office for Product and Safety Standards (OPSS) numbers, first reported by the Guardian newspaper, mean 2023 saw the highest number of deaths in a calendar year caused by e-bike fires. It comes as the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has said that incidents caused by e-bikes and e-scooters are now the fastest growing fire risk in the city, with 149 e-bike fires recorded in London in 2023, causing three deaths, up from 87 fires and zero deaths in 2022.

Authorities have stressed much of the danger comes from certain dangerous products or batteries, not all e-bikes, statistics from the first six months of 2023 suggesting that of 73 e-bike fires in London, at least 40 per cent were believed to involve a converted e-bike. Just this week, the LFB urged users to check for a known dangerous UPP battery and cease using their vehicle immediately if they discovered it had one of the battery designs linked to a number of fires across England. The messaging from fire safety authorities remains that buyers should purchase e-bikes from a reputable retailer, with those vehicles fitted with conversion kits or certain batteries purchased online possibly posing a greater risk.

> E-bike safety: What to avoid when buying an e-bike, battery or charger

And in the latest calls for urgent safety action on dangerous products, MPs and safety groups have made the case for third-party certification to ensure e-bikes and their batteries are approved by an independent body before going on the market, safety standards which are currently already in place for other high-risk products such as fireworks.

"These e-bikes can reach a phenomenally high temperature in seconds. They are so dangerous. It is almost like having an unexploded bomb in your house," Yvonne Fovargue, Labour MP and chair of the all party parliamentary group on online and home electrical safety said.

Fovargue's Labour colleague, MP Neil Coyle, warned that the "number of deaths is growing and is likely to continue to grow unless there are greater powers to remove dangerous items".

Burnt e-bike after fire

> Are e-bike batteries safe? What’s the difference between a safe battery and a fire risk?

A petition on Change.org, demanding the government implements stricter legislation on dangerous products, has been signed more than 42,000 times. That petition was created following the death of 21-year-old Sofia Duarte on 1 January 2023 in a house fire caused by a converted e-bike's lithium battery pack which had failed "catastrophically". The family of Duarte has begged the government to introduce tighter regulations and stricter enforcement.

In January, the charity Electrical Safety First (ESF) said "sloppy manufacturers with little interest in safety are slipping through the net" after the OPSS issued withdrawal notices to four online marketplaces requiring them to stop selling a "dangerous" e-bike battery.

The government commented on the new figures, a spokesperson stating: "The OPSS works closely with the fire service to try to prevent tragic accidents. It has taken action to remove dangerous products, including e-bike batteries, from being sold and has published guidance for buyers on how to use e-bikes safely. Manufacturers, retailers and online platforms must follow regulations or face penalties that include fines or criminal punishment."

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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49 comments

Avatar
brooksby replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
5 likes

Because people don't (like to) think about the fifty litre tank of flammable fluid that they are sitting right on top of while driving their two tonne vehicle around at 50mph...

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ROOTminus1 replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
9 likes

Because petroleum fires have been normalised to the baseline of acceptable risk. That is a depressing thing to say, but to be fair, as a settled liquid at room temp, petrol burns really slowly, and containing the liquid is the hardest part of controlling the fire. Lithium battery fires are much closer to vapourised petrol fires, and the classic Hollywood fireball image

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henryb replied to ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
0 likes

This reminds me of some fire safety training I did years ago. To show us that petrol isn't very flammable (unlike petrol vapour), the instructor had us throw lit matches into a tray of petrol. All the matches went out.

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Capt Sisko replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
7 likes

Because

a. A car on your driveway isn't doing 100mph

b. Governments & safety regulations have gone to great lengths to ensure safety of the fuel cell*.

c. Most owners of 2 tonne etc don't go around making DIY modifications or bolting on cheap & unsafe Far East kits to their vehicles.

*Tesla excepted.

Lastly, if you think your scenario is daft, think about a motorcylist. A person that's happy to take several gallons of highly inflamable fuel, place it above a hot engine with an ignition source, then put the whole lot between their legs. As Jerry Lee Lewis sung, "Goodness gracious great balls of fire".

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NOtotheEU replied to Capt Sisko | 4 months ago
5 likes

In the United Kingdom, more than 100,000 cars go up in flames each year, resulting in approximately 100 deaths. Whilst the majority of vehicle fires are deliberate, many fires break out as a result of poor maintenance and could be prevented.

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/asset-library/imported/sfrs-vehicle-fires-fac...

That's just the fires, If you include the thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries every year I'd imagine the outcry would be 100 times worse than the reaction to a handfull of ebike fires but apparently we just have to accept that because, you know, cars.

Keeping people safe from ebike fires is a great thing to do and I fully support it but cars are far more dangerous to life and no one (except most of us obviously) seems to care.

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john_smith replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
2 likes

Maybe your comparison would be more meaningful if you gave the deaths per distance travelled or even just per vehicle.

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Capt Sisko replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
0 likes

As you seem to like your statisics, how many modified cars self combust when sat switched off on their owners driveways or in their garages?

*Again, Tesla excepted as we all know they have their problems.

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NOtotheEU replied to Capt Sisko | 4 months ago
0 likes

I imagine very few. In fact to avoid the chance all cars should be left there and never driven saving thousands of lives every year, then the press could concentrate on how dangerous bicycles really are.

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Sriracha replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
5 likes

What is? A car? They don't tend to spontaneously combust, unlike jerry-rigged e-bikes with hooky batteries wired to knock-off chargers left going all night. Besides, nobody parks them in the front hall.

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stonojnr replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
6 likes

theres a whole thread in the forum showing people who try parking in the front hall  3

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stonojnr replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
3 likes

probably because no-one ever says wow having a gas boiler in your house is really dangerous idea either.

theres plenty of stuff in most peoples houses that can cause devastating house fires, damage, destruction and take lives, most people accept those risks because they have mitigated it from being a completely uncontrolled risk.

I dont think people at large, appreciate how much of a fire hazard non standard lithium batteries can be, its just a battery after all and they see no risk buying cheap imported components & have no care for how they wire things up.

after all their whole view of safety is its ok to ride a modified e-bike or e-scooter at breakneck speeds, theyre not going to be remotely concerned theyve wired a neutral into a live

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NOtotheEU replied to stonojnr | 4 months ago
3 likes

stonojnr wrote:

probably because no-one ever says wow having a gas boiler in your house is really dangerous idea either.

That's basically what I was saying. Because someone has confused illegally modified motorbikes with bicycles theres a huge pile on with the press saying "see, we told you bicycles are dangerous" while ignoring all the things that kill thousands of people every year because most people believe their benefits outweigh their dangers. I chose to contrast this article with cars because they are the best example I can think of.

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chrisonabike replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
2 likes

Ah - agree.  People are killed in serious gas explosions every year (I surprised myself when I checked - here are four from 2023 [1] [2] [3] [4]).  Those make the news because they are rare.  But I don't know of anyone who says "I won't live anywhere near places with that dangerous gas supply".

There's also a "early market" effect.  e-whatevers are still new-ish - indeed so new that for the small e-things (bikes, scooters) we haven't even settled the regulation.   (Currently "no, pending further decision" but that clearly hasn't stopped them being sold in quantity).

Look at the beginnings of any mass-market product - lots of people generally got injured or worse being accidental product testers.  It's maybe harder to pick the "safe brands" from the cowboys - and the quality is likely much more variable than an established market.  Also people haven't learned to "respect" the new technology - because it has familiar aspects of existing tech (e.g. "I just plug it in like my phone / laptop - and they don't explode, do they?")

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imajez replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
1 like

chrisonabike wrote:

Ah - agree.  People are killed in serious gas explosions every year (I surprised myself when I checked - here are four from 2023 [1] [2] [3] [4]). 

I know the first location well and was often driving past or near there around time it happened. 
The damage to it and the many other houses in street is still not sorted out.

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ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
0 likes

I just can't work out which murdered MTB the blue swing arm is the remains of.
It's got the shape of the r3-act swingarm used by the Marin wolf ridge 9 and the Polygon Xquarone, but they only took air shocks, not coil.
Only other thoughts could be an old Orange, but I can't see anything that matches the shape around the seat tube

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Rendel Harris replied to ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
2 likes

You'd be amazed at some of the frankenbikes the delivery boys round here ride, clearly assembled from whatever parts have been stolen from parked bikes (or more charitably maybe salvaged from scrapheaps). Not uncommon to see MTB suspension forks wedged into a road frame, or an MTB with a 26" motor wheel on the front with a chunky knobbled tyre and a narrow road wheel on the back (no idea how they even accomplish that but they do!). Basically once you've stuck an illegal conversion kit with throttle on as long as the wheels go round job's a gooden; quite often see them riding bikes that don't actually have chains now.

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james-o replied to ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
0 likes

Whatever the frame is, just look at the size of the rear hub. Have you ever seen a complete bike from a reliable brand that uses a motor that large? It's a lash-up DIY bike and that's what's causing these problems. Broken wires or lack of wwaterproofing and short circuit protection or similar cause shorts and there's probably no shut down or anti-runaway systems to manage those problems. 

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ROOTminus1 replied to james-o | 4 months ago
0 likes

That's mostly the reason I was wondering what Nike it was before it was butchered. All of the possible frames I can think of don't have sufficient space within the fringe triangle, especially with a monster of a coil shock like that, for a battery pack, so it would've had to be attached by some extremely sketchy and definitely insecure means

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ktache replied to ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
1 like

Gaffer?

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