The government's plan to double the maximum legal power of e-bikes has sparked concerns within the fire safety community. Critics warn of increased risks of severe battery fires and other injuries.

01 March 2024

A government proposal to double the maximum legal power of e-bikes has ignited concerns among fire safety experts. The Department for Transport is currently seeking input on the plan, which also includes allowing e-bikes that don't require pedalling to travel at much higher speeds.

While the government aims to make e-bikes more appealing for riders, critics are cautioning against potential safety hazards. Data from the London Fire Brigade revealed a surge in fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters in 2023 compared to previous years. Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, expressed significant concern over the heightened risk of severe battery fires posed by the proposed more powerful e-bike models.

Campaign group Electrical Safety First highlighted the existing issue of substandard e-bike batteries causing devastating fires nationwide. They suggested that instead of increasing power, efforts should focus on enhancing the safety of current batteries.

Presently, e-bike motors must not exceed 250 watts, but the government aims to raise this limit to 500 watts across England, Scotland, and Wales. Additionally, they are considering increasing the top speed for throttle-operated e-bikes to 15.5mph from the current 3.73mph.

Acknowledging the potential road risks associated with higher speeds and increased power, the government also noted the possibility of more severe battery fires, especially with tampering. However, they proposed that greater power might discourage tampering, a contributing factor to safety issues with e-bikes.

While the government argues that boosting e-bike power could promote eco-friendly transport solutions and alleviate congestion, industry experts express reservations. Volt, a manufacturer of e-bikes, warned that the plan could attract unsafe batteries and incentivise users to tamper with them.

Cycling UK raised concerns about the safety implications of significantly increased power, citing potential risks to pedestrians and cyclists. They advocated for investment in better cycling infrastructure and financial support for cyclists.

The Bicycle Association expressed worries that legitimising tampering to enhance e-bike power could lead to serious fire safety consequences. They also feared that proposed changes might prompt regulations akin to mopeds, potentially making e-bikes less appealing.

The government assured that safety remains a priority and pledged to consider all feedback received during the consultation process. The consultation is set to conclude on 25 April 2024.

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