The Price of Safety
There is no doubt that micromobility products - e-bikes, scooters and similar electrified personal vehicles - have brought freedom to and greatly expanded accessibility for thousands of people across the globe. It is estimated that there will be 300 million e-bikes in worldwide circulation by 2023 . And in the US alone, June 2022 saw 4.41 million docked bikeshare trips according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics . No matter how you slice it, e-bikes and scooters are far lower in cost, noise and greenhouse gas emissions as compared to a car. And they’re much more accessible, especially with the advent of ride-sharing programs.
What has driven the micromobility craze? Quite simply: cost. Much like similar technologies, motors, controllers and especially batteries have drastically come down in price over the past decade. And the advantages of lithium over lead-acid - energy and power density - have increased speed and range while reducing weight. With the battery typically costing nearly as much as the motor and controller, falling prices of lithium batteries have had a big impact on sales.
While every micromobility trip potentially reduces congestion and pollution by keeping a car off the road, we can’t deny that there are a few downsides to the e-mobility craze. We’ve all read about injuries and even deaths from accidents; in fact, the estimated number of annual e-bike incidents is about 20,000 . These products can potentially easily exceed 25 mph, yet helmet use is limited and braking systems are often unchanged from their traditional human-powered versions.
And perhaps the biggest threat comes from batteries themselves. According to a recent NY Post article, there have been 5 e-bike fire deaths and 66 injuries in New York City this year . The cause of these fires? A lack of proper safety regulation on the batteries.
The fact is, many e-bikes and especially scooters are imported from countries that don’t have as strict laws governing electrical systems. They come with batteries that meet no US manufacturing or safety standards. This keeps costs down; UL listings are expensive, after all. But it also introduces unacceptable risks that give the industry and lithium batteries a bad name.
Many micromobility users are lower income and therefore price sensitive, so you can’t blame them for buying an off-brand scooter for $500 on AliExpress instead of another for $1,000 locally. And while the actual battery fire rate is extremely low - “only” 330 fire-related incidents were reported from 2015 thru 2019 - they still make headlines whenever they happen.
Higherwire handles thousands of batteries a day, the vast majority of them lithium. As a manufacturer of Second Life lithium batteries, we know the risk of battery fires and take every precaution to prevent and prepare for them. That includes mandatory safety training and PPE to protect our employees, fire extinguishers and sand-filled buckets at every station, ensuring batteries are stored away from flammable materials, and working with local fire officials to make sure our policies and procedures are safe. It’s also why we’re acquiring UL, R2 and ISO certifications. We want to make sure everything we do is as safe as it is sustainable.
It’s easy to overlook safety when you see the price difference on a no-name scooter. But we can assure you that we’ve seen batteries that were lucky to have been intact. And think about the cost of safety before you buy your next scooter: those 330 incidents were accountable for more than $9 million in damage, or about $21,000 each. That’s a tall price to pay to save a few hundred bucks.
A quick note before we dive into the fun facts: while looking for photos for this blog post, I stumbled across an article from popular website listing the fastest electric stand-up scooters available for sale. Look, I shouldn’t have to tell you that you really don’t need a scooter that can go 50mph. It’s one thing to be hunched over the tank of a motorcycle, and even fast e-bikes situate your weight a bit lower. Standing up doing 50mph with only 10” of wheel between you and every rock or crack in the road will literally get you killed.
- The electric scooter was launched in 1915, and the electric bike was invented in 1897.
- Gas emissions could be reduced in a big city by 35,000,000 grams daily if just 10,000 people used electric scooters instead of cars.
- Carbon emissions would be reduced by around 900 metric tons a day if 15% of daily commutes were taken by electric bikes.
- Electric scooters are considered the most efficient means of transport.
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