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On March 26 (Saturday), a man and his daughter in Vellore died of suffocation when their brand-new Okinawa electric scooter reportedly caught fire when left to charge overnight. Police have summoned representatives from Okinawa Scooters for the inquiry.

The ever so stylish Ola S1 Pro put on quite a show on Pune streets, but not like how folks there would have liked it. A fire engulfed an unassuming electric scooter and the video of the burning EV spread like wildfire.

Although no one was hurt, the whole issue raised concerns about electric scooter fire for no fault of the owner. Investigation regarding this particular Ola EV is on; however, social media users are questioning the reliability factor while looking for answers. The Centre has deputed experts who will travel to Vellore and Pune.

The thermal runaway issue
One convincing answer was provided on Twitter by Saharsh Damani, the CEO of Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA). A faulty ‘Thermal Runaway’ may have been the cause for the Pune incident. A heat producing (exothermic) reaction takes place inside the lithium-ion battery when it is damaged or in an event of short-circuit. This can cause a ‘Thermal Runaway’ and the battery goes up in flames. In the Vellore case, the electric system in the house was old and there may have been a short circuit.

There have been many accounts of faulty electric scooters. Not engaging in reverse or showing 102 kmph on the speedometer while in reverse gear are some stories that have dominated social media.

Malay Mohapatra of Odisha had a terrifying complaint against his Ola S1 Pro. He was on an incline when the scooter didn’t engage into the forward gear. Instead it went in reverse down the incline when he throttled, thereby causing him to lose balance and fall off. What is scarier is that when he fell, the scooter’s rear wheel was going in reverse at 102 kmph.

Fortunately for Malay, the wheel was not in contact with the road. Else, it could have led to severe damage, let alone the fact that the speed of an Ola S1 in reverse is limited to 4 kmph.

Some users claimed that their Ola S1 variant would not switch to reverse from forward gear or forward from reverse gear. They did, however, mention that rebooting the scooter would solve the problem like an old faulty smartphone.

Such incidents obviously cause confusion and put the mind in a daze. Also, situations that are uncalled for could arise when the mind of the rider is least expecting it. One thing is certain that the owners who’ve had troubles like these would have a fear about it repeating.

Some users claimed that their Ola S1 variant would not switch to reverse from forward gear or forward from reverse gear. They did, however, mention that rebooting the scooter would solve the problem like an old faulty smartphone

A burning electric vehicle however, is another case altogether since it could turn fatal. There was an incident in Austria where a Tesla Model S went up in flames after crashing into a concrete barrier. It took five fire-trucks and 35 fire-fighters to douse the rampant flame.

Earlier this year in India, a Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) electric bus caught fire while being charged in the depot. After considering these incidents, it is only safe to assume that the electric vehicle technology is still in a nascent stage.

Yes, malfunctions like this happen and they are resolved with upgrades and updates. Maybe the electric vehicle technology will start innovating on safer battery packs or optimize them for better safety.

It is not that vehicles running on fossil fuels don’t light up. They still do. However, petrol/diesel vehicles catching fire is not like what’s shown in a few Rohit Shetty movies. The main reasons for petrol/diesel vehicles to catch fire are braking malfunction, fuel leaks or electrical shorts.

Fossil fuel and hybrid vehicles are more prone to fire incidents than electric vehicles.

A recent study conducted by AutoinsuranceEZ.com collected and reviewed data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and Recalls.gov.

The study deduced the following number of fire cases: 1,529 fire cases reported per 1 lakh fossil fuel vehicles; 3,474 fire cases reported per 1 lakh hybrid vehicles; and 25 fire cases reported per 1 lakh electric vehicles

This report suggests that electric vehicles are the least involved in fire incidents. The few cases that are reported receive wide publicity since the technology is new and there’s a buzz around e-scooters.

Fossil fuel and hybrid vehicles are more prone to fire incidents than electric vehicles.

Policy matters
Moving forward in this age of digital evolution and revolution, measures must be taken to ensure better battery management and safety. Stringent policies will have to look into the matter of customer safety with regards to electric vehicles catching fire.

Although all south Indian governments have prescribed a decent sanction for R&D, the policies do not cover safety specifically including in the electric scooter.

The ‘Electric Mobility Policy 2018-23’ of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Electric Vehicle and Energy Storage Policy 2020-2030, Policy on Electric Vehicles for the State of Kerala -2019, Karnataka Electric Vehicle & Energy Storage Policy 2017 and Tamil Nadu Electric Vehicle Policy 2019 do not mention the safety aspect.

The states have however, chalked out individual plans in their policies to support incubation. Several new innovations that could make batteries safer could arise.

In Tamil Nadu’s perspective, a ‘Centre of Excellence’ takes a prominent and intriguing part in the ‘Tamil Nadu Electric Vehicle Policy 2019’.

A snippet from the Government issued EV policy states, “The State Government will partner with premier technical institutes and research establishments across the state for establishing centres of excellence for conducting market focused research on battery technologies, battery management, EV motors and controllers.”

“Research programs in collaboration with EV industry with a focus on battery innovation will be introduced in engineering colleges/universities”, it further mentioned.

The Tamil Nadu EV policy is already in effect since its introduction in 2019 and will remain valid for a period of ten years or till a new policy is announced. In August of 2021, the Government of Tamil Nadu had made a statement that an updated policy on electric vehicles will be issued.

If the updated policy happens to include safety measures for battery management, Tamil Nadu would have set the standards higher for its people.

EVs are the future
The growing electric vehicle market in Tamil Nadu and the rest of India has taken a jolt from the fire incident. It could be easy to brush this issue under the carpet but the startled EV enthusiasts need to be given an answer.

The electric scooter accidents could have drawn more attention to itself since India is looking forward to a newer environment and a technology friendly alternative to vehicles that run on fossil fuels. In the coming years, the development in technology will certainly make EVs safer, power packed, fewer snags and most of all, fire proof.


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