Consumer Products Safety Commission will enforce safety standards on hoverboards for the first time
February 19, 2016 2:24 PM
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Tre Watson, a sophomore and football player at the University of California Berkeley, rides a hoverboard on a sidewalk near campus in November 2015.
By Tracie Mauriello / Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The coolest new toy under a lot of Christmas trees gave more than fun, smooth rides around the neighborhood. Hoverboards also provided for trips to emergency rooms and visits from fire departments, and that’s why they government is enforcing safety standards on them for the first time.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. published voluntary safety standards two weeks ago, and today the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission announced it would enforce them.
UL will certify hoverboards that comply, while the commission has announced it may seize or recall those that don’t.
“Consumers risk serious injury or death if their self-balancing scooters ignite and burn,” wrote Robert J. Howell, acting director of the agency’s office of compliance and field operations, in a letter to manufacturers, importers and retailers.
“I urge you to review your product line and ensure that all self-balancing scooters that you manufacture, import, distribute or sell in the United States are in compliance,” he wrote.
The standards– about 100 pages worth – include requirements for everything from materials used in production to instructions included in the packaging. Products must pass a battery of tests.
“We do vibration tests, shock tests, crush tests, drop tests, environmental tests, everything,” said John Drengenberg, an electrical engineer and UL’s consumer safety director.
So far, no hoverboard has met the standard. UL policy prevents Mr. Drengenberg from saying whether that’s because products failed or because they’ve not yet been tested.
Those that do pass, he assures, will not cause the kind of spontaneous fires reported to the commission and depicted in viral videos online.
“We’re confident that if [a hoverboard] meets the requirements, the only other problems could be a manufacturing error, user error or misuse, but if it’s built the way it’s supposed to be and the end user has some level of maturity, it should do what it’s supposed to do without creating hazards,” Mr. Drengenberg said. “We can test to help reduce fires and shock hazards, but the end user is something we just can’t control. Like a car; if they build a nice car with good safety features people still run into brick walls.”
Manufacturers and retailers were involved in establishing the standards, Mr. Dregenberg said.
“Most of them would prefer to keep making them the way they’re making them, but manufacturers are ethical people and they do want to keep people safe. They don’t want to cause fires and problems,” he said.
Since December 1, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received reports from consumers of 52 scooter fires in 24 states that caused about $2 million in property damage. Two houses and a car were destroyed, according to Mr. Howell’s letter.
Separately from UL’s tests, the commission is evaluating the safety of hoverboards at its lab in Rockville, Md. to look for the root cause of hoverboard fires, spokeswoman Patty Davis said.
Many other products including cell phones and laptops use the same kind of batteries as hoverboards, and other products use similar motors so it isn’t clear why hoverboards are more susceptible to spontaneous fires than other electronics.
“It does use more batteries than most of the other things, and the use of it is going to be outdoors. It’s going to be run through puddles, it’s going to get a lot of vibration and it’s going to be used by young people, so that’s different,” Mr. Drengenberg said.
The two-wheeled, battery-operated scooters invaded the U.S. toy market last year and were a popular Christmas gift that in the U.S. for between $250 and $1,500. Riders stand on the skateboard-sized device with the board parallel to their shoulders and control speed and direction by shifting their weight.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission began looking into them because of concerns about spontaneous fires and injuries from falls. In light of safety concerns, Amazon is offering refunds to purchasers, universities including Carnegie Mellon have restricted hoverboard use on campus, and the Carolina Panthers football team prohibited players from using them before the Super Bowl.
To report consumer safety incidents with hoverboards, visit http://www.saferproducts.gov/.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org; 703-996-9229 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
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