A new CR investigation identifies how flaws in the product safety system have led to hundreds of e-bike battery fires in 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer Reports today published an investigation on the surge of deadly fires linked to lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes. In New York City alone, the city’s fire department has attributed at least 191 fires and six deaths to the batteries this year.
“Despite the mounting toll of fires, injuries, and deaths tied to e-bike batteries, manufacturers and sellers have failed to take vital steps that would protect people’s safety,” said Gabe Knight, policy advocate for Consumer Reports. “When an industry isn’t putting safety first, people rightly expect the Consumer Product Safety Commission to step in. CR’s investigation shows that the CPSC can’t do its job as quickly or effectively as it needs to as long as Congress forces the agency to fight with one hand tied behind its back.”
As the use of e-bikes and other micromobility products has increased in recent years, so too have injuries associated with them. According to the CPSC, these products are popular with consumers for a variety of reasons, including because they can be convenient, accessible, and cost-effective for short-distance travel, and because they are perceived as eco-friendly.
Consumer Reports’ story highlights key issues in today’s product safety system that leave consumers at risk of injury or death:
- Currently, there are no mandatory safety standards for e-bikes, e-scooters, hoverboards, or any other micromobility products. Companies may choose to certify to UL Solutions’ voluntary standard for e-bikes, but only 13 companies do so. Noncompliant companies cite cost as a major reason for not certifying to the UL standard—but certification is a one-time expense that doesn’t necessarily add much to an e-bike’s total cost.
- Federal law generally requires the CPSC to defer to voluntary safety standards, and it may only establish a mandatory standard if the current voluntary standard does not adequately reduce the risk or there is not likely to be substantial compliance. The CPSC’s budget of $139 million, which is $73 million less than Amazon CEO’s compensation last year, is insufficient for the agency to fully carry out its mission to protect the public from hazards linked to more than 15,000 types of consumer products.
- In 2016, the U.S. increased its de minimis threshold from $200 to $800, allowing shipments priced $799.99 and below to enter the U.S. tax-free and with minimal government inspection. Since that time, de minimis shipments have more than tripled, and were valued at $771.5 million in 2021. While federal inspectors technically can examine these shipments, it is currently logistically impossible for them to do so at a level that adequately protects the public.
- Lack of regulation or industry-wide acceptance of safety standards may leave lower-income users at greater risk than those able to afford high-end devices that are likelier to be UL-certified. This includes New York City’s 65,000 delivery workers, who typically rely on self-purchased e-bikes for their jobs and often end up with cheaper, lower-quality batteries.
“The existing approach to e-bike safety has failed, and it’s consumers who are paying the price,” Knight said. “Too many companies are unaccountable for the quality and safety of their products. To reverse the trends we’re seeing, people need more robust oversight and more stringent safety standards for e-bike batteries, and they need them now.”
Consumer Reports has previously reported on the hazards associated with certain hoverboards and e-scooters. CR continues to advocate for greater CPSC authority and much greater funding for the agency to carry out its duty to protect consumers.
Media Contact: Emily Akpan, firstname.lastname@example.org