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Safety experts call on Christmas shoppers to choose e-bikes and e-scooters carefully

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Choosing the wrong electric scooter or bike could be a fatal mistake this Christmas, experts have warned, amid a rising number of house fires caused by faulty batteries.

It comes as a Sunshine Coast lawyer warns of the potential liability and costly consequences the gift of an e-scooter might have for a loved one.

Authorities have said lithium-ion battery fires are happening every week and a new wave of damage could be unleashed early next year due to poorly constructed Christmas purchases.

They say the danger could be avoided by investing in reputable, well-made portable mobility devices and using them with care.

The warning follows four e-scooter fires over four days in Perth last week, and after the consumer watchdog found reports of battery fires increased “sixfold” between 2021 and 2023 and called for changes to the industry.

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EV FireSafe chief executive Emma Sutcliffe said the popularity of battery-powered bicycles and scooters had “amplified” the problem as opportunistic manufacturers created badly-made, cheaper products to meet demand.

“Fire crews across Australia are seeing one fire at least every fortnight and I don’t think there’s a fire crew in Australia that hasn’t been to a lithium-ion battery fire,” she said.

Consumers have been warned to be cautious of e-bike batteries. Picture: Shutterstock

“We will absolutely start to see these things start to fail three to six months after Christmas, and we cross our fingers every year but we will probably see a fatality from lithium-ion battery fires.”

Ms Sutcliffe, who trains firefighters and tracks battery fires, said Australia had recorded one death from a lithium-ion battery fire in 2023 but the risks could rise if consumers purchased more risky devices this Christmas.

She recommended consumers only purchase e-bikes from local stores, rather than online businesses, and keep watch for signs of damage, water ingress, swelling, heat or noise from batteries.

“If you hear a loud popping noise, immediately evacuate the area,” she said.

“I don’t care if it’s your bedroom – you get everybody out of that house and you call the fire service for help.”

Other precautions included taking care not to overcharge batteries, ensuring they were recharged with the correct cable and in a space clear of flammable items, and disposing of batteries that showed signs of damage.

E-scooters are popular mobility devices. Picture: Shutterstock

Special counsel Greg Spinda from Sunshine Coast-based law firm Travis Schultz and Partners said there was another potential issue for e-scooter users many were unaware of.

He said e-scooters in Queensland are not required to have compulsory third party (CTP) insurance so many don’t realise that in the event of an accident, the at-fault rider will likely have to pay injury compensation.

“It’s a case of consumer beware – if you choose to ride an e-scooter out of your driveway on Christmas morning, you do so at your own risk,” Mr Spinda said.

“As there is limited insurance cover on offer for both private and hire scooters, riders could be left facing legal action directly by the people they injure and those whose property they damage.”

Mr Spinda says that on the Sunshine Coast the worst incidents the compensation law firm sees are when riders have a passenger on board – made worse when that collision is with a pedestrian.

“Riding your e-scooter with a passenger multiplies the risk. In this scenario, the rider in control of the e-scooter could be liable for the injuries of two people – their passenger and the pedestrian,” he said.

“I have seen people end up with lifetime impairments due to a moment of irresponsible behaviour by e-scooter riders. The extent of injuries that can be caused to pedestrians, and to riders themselves, when travelling up to 25km/h is horrifying.

“And with some privately owned e-scooters reaching speeds of up to 80km/h, the risk and severity of injury escalates. Behind every statistic is a real person.

““While a solution in way of adequate insurance is currently being lobbied for, my hope is for greater prevention measures such as more education about the consequences of both careless and intentional dangerous riding.”

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