Exploding Hoverboards

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) opened a federal investigation into a fire March 2017 that killed a 3-year-old girl and injured four others, two of them critically. The fire occurred when a hoverboard plugged into an outlet exploded in flames. More than six months earlier, the CSPC had issued an official recall of over 500,000 hoverboards over fire hazards posed by the devices’ lithium-ion battery packs.

CSPC Begins Investigating Manufacturers and Testing Hoverboards

Following reports between November and December 2015 of igniting and exploding hoverboards damaging property, with one home completely destroyed, the CPSC warned users not to charge hoverboards unattended, and announced that it would increase its scrutiny of the devices.

After reports of at least one hoverboard maker putting counterfeit safety marks on its products, the agency announced that it was investigating thirteen hoverboard companies and testing both new models and those involved in fire incidents at its National Product Testing and Evaluation Center. Its engineers monitored the voltage of the devices while in use, inspected circuit boards and batteries, examined previously-burned boards, and scanned the boards’ batteries. The information gained gave the agency enough evidence to issue notices to manufacturers and retailers about the devices’ safety.

UL Opens Its Doors to Hoverboard Evaluation Testing and Certification

In January 2016, the CSPC sent out a notice to retailers and manufacturers that it had determined hoverboards with exploding batteries were not safe unless they comply with safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratory (UL), an independent safety consulting and certification company. At the same time, UL announced that it would open the door to product submittals of hoverboards for “construction evaluation, testing, and/or UL certification.” The scooters were tested and certified using UL 2272, which covers the electric drive train, including the rechargeable battery and charger system combination.

CSPC Urges Hoverboard Makers and Sellers to Pull Products

In February 2016, the CSPC urged hoverboard makers and sellers to voluntarily take non-UL compliant hoverboards off the market immediately, considering them to be defective, presenting a “substantial product hazard.” The agency added in its notice that if companies don’t follow new safety standards they can face enforcement actions such as seizure of products and civil or criminal penalties. “From our perspective, a smart retailer will put in place a stop sale to find out if their inventory complies with our standard. If they are certain that it doesn’t, they should then issue a recall proposal,” said CPSC chairman Elliot Kaye. After that, retailers, including Amazon, Target, and Toys ‘R Us, began removing the devices from their physical and online shelves.

Agency Issues Official Hoverboard Recall in July

As of July 2016, the CPSC had investigated more than 60 hoverboard fires in more than 20 states, that resulted in more than $2 million in property damage. With eight manufacturers and two retailers, in July the agency issued an official recall of 501,000 hoverboards, all manufactured in China and sold mostly online from June 2015 to May 2016, over fire hazards posed by the devices’ lithium-ion battery packs. By that time, there had been at least 99 incidents reported to the CSPC of the battery packs in hoverboards overheating, sparking, smoking, catching fire and/or exploding, including reports of burn injuries and property damage.

Following the recall notice, CSPC chairman Elliot Kaye said “Let me be clear about this – all of the hoverboard models included in this recall were made with fundamental design flaws that put people at real risk. My message to the public was clear in February and continues to be clear today: Do not use a hoverboard that does not meet UL’s electrical safety requirements for these products. To prevent another fire and possibly a death, I am urging consumers who have a recalled hoverboard to take advantage of this recall.”

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