In Germany it is still a bleak vision, but in the USA it is already a reality. After a series of battery fires on scooters and e-bikes, more and more residential complexes are banning these vehicles. In Germany there are only isolated bans. In Hamburg you are no longer allowed to take e-scooters on the train. In the USA and especially in New York, scooters and e-bikes are banned by rental companies.
The New York Times reports that 14 people died and 93 others were injured in lithium battery fires in New York in 2023. As of August 14, 154 of these fires have been recorded in NYC. The city is now trying to ban the sale of bikes and scooters that don't meet certain safety standards and is offering a subsidized exchange program.
These measures are not enough for many landlords and probably some roommates too. They ban the vehicles from the buildings. Those affected complain about their suffering on Facebook and Reddit. From one day to the next, prohibition signs are put up. It is impossible to regularly bring a full-sized e-bike into your apartment unnoticed by neighbors and doorman. Particularly unpleasant for the owners: The bans make no distinction between branded bikes and devices and no-name imports. Even ownership does not protect against the prohibitions. On Reddit, a user complains that the homeowners' association in his residential complex banned e-vehicles without warning and that he no longer knows how to get to work. Universities are following suit and starting to ban these environmentally friendly forms of transportation. Accommodation in dormitories and even mere use on campus are prohibited. Some colleges are particularly clever, they just prohibit parking, which then makes using it pointless.
Why are batteries so dangerous? These lithium-ion batteries can explode without warning, this often happens when charging, but it can also happen like this. The lithium fire itself is very hot and practically impossible for the residents of an apartment to extinguish. With special fire extinguishers you cannot stop the fire, but you can cool it down. A portable extinguisher should be sufficient for a laptop, but hardly for the 700 watt-hour battery of an e-bike. Fires in apartments now spread much faster than before. The reason is the high proportion of synthetic fibers in the interior design. In New York, these fires set curtains ablaze in seconds. If the bike is in the hallway, the exit to the door is blocked.
This type of battery is also used in laptops or smartphones, but the memory is much smaller. The danger is particularly great with cheap devices that do not comply with safety standards. But even branded devices are not without danger. For example, when the exhausted battery cells are replaced in a craft store. A battery can also be damaged by falls and impacts. This happens with bikes and scooters and hardly any owner has their battery checked after a minor accident. A fire can also happen if the wrong charger is connected. Or if you “revive” a dead, deeply discharged battery and thereby bypass the control electronics. Batteries are not only installed in e-bikes and scooters, but also in more and more household appliances such as vacuum cleaners or DIY machines. But only scooters and e-bikes are in our sights. Essentially, these bans are pointless if the battery can be removed. The vehicle then remains outside and the battery is smuggled in the bag.
These measures seem excessive. The fires are very rare considering the number of batteries and charging processes. But one has to admit that there are no satisfactory answers to many questions. For example, the following horror scenario: What happens if a battery explodes in an elevator or a gondola? Or even in a tight crowd of people? The clothing of bystanders will inevitably catch fire very quickly if they cannot move away from the source of the fire immediately.
There are countless tips for the correct handling of batteries, but they are not practical. It is true that a battery should not be opened, self-repairs should be avoided at all costs and devices that are somehow damaged should not be used.
Further advice is of little help. It is advisable not to charge an electric vehicle in the house, but in a shed. In the event of a fire, no one will be harmed. On the other hand, charging should not be done unattended. This is also utopian, even if the bike is in the apartment. Depending on the battery and charger, a full charge takes between four and eight hours, so no one will be keeping an eye on their battery for that long. You should also avoid low temperatures. How the vehicle can be used in winter is not revealed. The battery doesn't like high temperatures either, but you won't be able to avoid parking your bike in the sun. However, technical progress gives hope. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are on the rise worldwide. They are far more stable and long-lasting than lithium-ion batteries and they do not burn or explode.
Sources: NYT, Reddit, Electrec