Call for e-bike and e-scooter restrictions, EV training

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

Emergency services, insurers and experts will weigh in on the safety of battery powered vehicles.
Emergency services, insurers and experts will weigh in on the safety of battery powered vehicles.

It’s not cars but scooters and bicycles that have become the risky electric vehicles on Australian roads, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has been told, with calls for urgent reforms to stop lives and homes being put at risk.

Fire and battery experts warned of the dangers at the NSW Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Batteries Inquiry on Tuesday, with suggestions including battery inspections, import restrictions, and prosecutions for sellers making false claims.

But the committee also heard suggestions for changes to the way Australia approached road-registered electric vehicles, including more training for mechanics and strict rules about electric car conversations.

The NSW Joint Standing Committee inquiry, announced in October, was designed to probe whether “enhanced training, safety equipment and support” would be required to deal with the growing number of electrified vehicles on the state’s roads. 

EV FireSafe director Emma Sutcliffe told the inquiry the biggest risk to Australians was not from registered cars which were already subject to “strict and effective” rules, but from personal vehicles such as electric scooters, bikes, skateboards and unicycles. 

“They are not subject to any regulation currently that we’re aware of and they can be drop-shipped in from overseas very quickly and brought into Australia,” she said.

“Personal mobility devices, particularly electric bikes and electric scooters, are responsible for an enormous number of property losses, injuries and fatalities.”

Four people had been killed in Australia in blazes caused by e-scooter and e-bikes, she said, and 36 people died overseas in the first six months of 2023. 

Ms Sutcliffe said most fires were caused by poor-quality battery cells, and while emergency services had identified the issue, regulations were urgently needed to restrict bad imports and inspect batteries.

“That space definitely needs to be regulated but we have to be careful not to red-tape it because we have a lot of lower income earners that rely on bikes and scooters,” she said.

Lithium Batteries Australia general manager Armin Pauza said cheap, poorly made batteries were being used in many e-bikes and e-scooters and the companies bringing them to Australia should be held accountable for bad outcomes.

“Some of them are so unscrupulous they actually label them with kangaroo, Australia-made logos on the batteries but they’re made in China,” he said.

“They’re just in it to make a quick buck.”

The warnings come after Fire and Rescue NSW reported 61 e-bike and e-scooter fires in the state in 2023, up from 22 the in 2022.

However, the inquiry also heard calls for greater regulation of electric vehicle conversions, which EV FireSafe technical director Dan Fish said were not closely scrutinised, and for more re-training opportunities. 

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union acting state secretary Bradley Pidgeon said the state would need 6000 technicians trained in repairing electric vehicles in the coming years but many could not access the necessary education.

“Our members have identified that they just don’t have the access to get the skills and training, especially in regional areas,” he said.

“There’s quite a shortfall in relation to the skills that are required now but, more importantly, into the future.”

Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association chief executive Stuart Charity told the inquiry a third of automotive workshops had one person trained to “de-power and reinitialise” electric and hybrid cars but not to diagnose and repair them.

He called for government to boost opportunities and offset the cost of further education.

“You can’t just stimulate the uptake and sale of electric vehicles – you have to look at the downstream impact and skills from a service and repair point of view,” he said.