The road to EV safety requires a robust infrastructure

Few would argue that emerging technologies like electric vehicles (EVs) and electric micromobility devices (more commonly known as e-bikes and e-scooters) are transforming today’s modes of transportation. Today, there are reportedly more than one million electrified vehicles on U.S. roadways; that number is expected to reach more than 18 million by 2030. Meanwhile, travel to just about any urban setting and you’ll surely see people on e-bikes and e-scooters nimbly navigating city streets.

With the increasing ubiquity of these lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles and devices, the appropriate infrastructure of safety must be in place to support their presence and growth. On the fire service side, this includes ensuring that first responders receive the training needed to safely and effectively handle associated incidents. For consumers, it means educating them about how to properly charge and store EVs, e-bikes, and e-scooters.

NFPA has been committed to addressing potential fire hazards posed by EVs for some time, offering in-person and online trainings that teach first responders how to safely and effectively mitigate EV incidents. These trainings and related resources were developed in coordination with several major safety organizations and numerous national laboratories that share our commitment to EV safety. We’ve also received grants to help deliver these trainings to as many fire departments as possible. To date, NFPA has helped educate more than 300,000 first responders on this emerging hazard.

Currently, as part of a three-year project funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), NFPA and the U.S. Clean Cities Coalition (CCC) have teamed up to develop a series of online courses and workshops that help prepare communities for the growing presence of electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roadways. Called “NFPA Spurs the Safe Adoption of Electric Vehicles Through Education and Outreach,” the program works to help communities prepare for electrical vehicle growth in the US, assisting cities and towns with an evaluation of their EV infrastructure, training programs, incentives, and code compliance readiness.

This September, NFPA co-hosted a symposium with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to address fire safety hazards associated with improper storage and charging of e-bikes and e-scooters as well as other devices powered by lithium-ion batteries. In follow-up to the symposium, NFPA created new webpage and tip sheet for public educators, building and store owners, the fire service, and other professionals, highlighting why e-bikes and e-scooters catch fire, what some jurisdictions are doing to better regulate that risk, and what people can do to stay safe if they use, store, or charge e-bikes, e-scooters, and other products that use lithium-ion batteries.

Our overall goal has been to ensure that as EVs and other lithium-ion powered devices like e-bikes and e-scooters become more widely used, potential safety threats are addressed as appropriate in a timely manner.

But the work that NFPA has done in collaboration with other committed organizations is only part of the solution. Truly reducing the fire safety risks associated with EVs and other lithium-ion battery powered devices requires a robust ecosystem of safety that includes active, ongoing support and participation from local government, utilities, electrical code officials, manufacturers/dealerships, fleet owners, garages/maintenance facilities, insurance companies, the fire service, EMS, law enforcement, and consumers. All these stakeholder groups must be fully engaged in doing their part to truly help minimize associated safety risks.

As things stand, a sizeable gap remains between this ideal infrastructure and existing levels of preparedness and planning. More widespread public education about EV systems themselves; more guidance around charging installation safety practices; strengthened code compliance; and training for more emergency responders are just a few of the many ways we can begin to close that gap.

If all of us with a vested interest in these issues do our part, we will be vastly more effective at mitigating these types of fires in the years to come. Otherwise, we will continue to see more preventable tragedies occurring more frequently, particularly as the use of EVs continues to grow. It’s up to all of us to decide which road we choose to take.

Sign up for the NFPA Network Newsletter
Jim Pauley
President & CEO of NFPA