Electric bikes, seen as a solution for tackling climate change, have caused a record number of fires in New York City.
According to figures released by the New York Fire Department to Fox News, e-bikes – powered by lithium-ion batteries – were responsible for 267 fires in the city.
They claimed 18 lives and caused 150 injuries, with fatalities increasing 200 per cent in 2023.
The latest figures show that sales of e-bikes in the US increased by 269 per cent between 2019 and 2022. It is estimated that the market was worth $2.59 (£2bn) billion by the end of 2023.
They have been seen as a way of decarbonising the US and Democratic members of Congress have sponsored legislation which would subsidise their purchase.
Most states in the US allow anyone above the age of 16 to ride e-bikes, which can be bought for around $1.600 (£1,260).
Safety experts have warned of the dangers posed by the lithium-ion batteries which can enter an uncontrollable self-heating state and explode.
Their dangers were highlighted by New York City mayor, Eric Adams, in 2023.
“As we rely more and more on micro mobility vehicles to earn a living in our daily lives, we increase the risk of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries,” he said.
“We had over 100 deaths in this city alone on these batteries.
“And one of the problems that we’ve noticed, when you look at those taped-up batteries, you see that they are refurbished.
“These shops are going inside attempting to refurbish the batteries and do it their own way. This is a safety issue.”
In November three people were killed in a Brooklyn fire, which the city’s fire department attributed to an e-scooter battery.
Laura Kavanagh, the city’s fire commissioner, said: “This was a difficult and dangerous fire that drew a massive response from our members and seriously injured one of our firefighters.”
She described e-bikes as “incredibly dangerous devices”.
Ms Kavanagh added: “We know these fires can cause serious injury, and even death. We are grateful to our partners in city government for their out-of-the-box thinking on how we can embrace this new technology while also protecting lives.”
New York City, which has introduced a raft of laws to regulate the batteries, is not alone in facing problems with e-bikes.
In June, Encinitas, a beach town in southern California, declared a state of emergency over e-bike safety after two boys collided with cars and one died.
Similar fatal crashes have been reported elsewhere in California and Oregon. It is not just the batteries which pose a risk.
Their riders are often inexperienced and some e-bikes can go considerably faster than the 20mph limit imposed on teachers in most states in the US.
Rise in injuries
Vishal Bansal, director of trauma surgery at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, California, has seen a rise in injuries as the popularity of e-bikes grows.
“We are seeing a combination of head injury, orthopaedic injuries and fractures, spine fractures, road rash and abrasions to the skin,” he said.
“It’s not exclusive to e-bikes, but anecdotally, it does seem we are seeing more cases because there is a larger volume of e-bikes.”
Dr Walter Biffl, the trauma medical director at Scripps, warned the belief that e-bikes were safer than conventional ones was a misconception.
“They can go much faster, and this may create risk for hitting pedestrians who can’t get out of the way in time, or with motor vehicles, whose drivers do not anticipate a bike moving so fast,” he said.
“There’s also more momentum and the stopping distance will be much greater.”