Hoverboards swept the holiday gift market for kids in 2015 but also made news after claims that they were catching on fire.  Predictably, the internet was flooded with videos of hoverboards in flames.  The technology and the fires caught the collective attention of not only consumers and the media but also that of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

That attention has turned into the following industry changes:

  1. Hoverboards get a new, technical name – “Self-balancing Scooters”;
  2. Hoverboards get a UL standard for their electrical systems – UL 2272; and
  3. Hoverboards that don’t meet UL 2272, are deemed an “unreasonable risk of fire” by the CPSC.

These developments are significant for the self-balancing scooter (SBS) industry at all levels. It is worth mentioning that UL 2272 does not apply to the “overall safety” of the product.  Stated more precisely, UL 2272 isn’t meant to keep  an unsuspecting parent from getting harmed while riding their kid’s SBS.  Instead, UL 2272 is “intended for evaluation of the safety of the electrical drive train system and battery and charger combination.”  The focus of UL 2272 is the lithium-ion batteries in the SBS with the belief being that use (and abuse) of the SBS can lead to short-circuiting of the batteries which, in turn, can lead to a fire.

On February 18, 2016, CPSC Acting Director, Robert J. Howell, issued a letter urging manufacturers, importers and retailers, in the SBS industry to “make certain” that all SBS’s not only complied with UL 2272 but also the test requirements set forth in UN/DOT 38.3 for the transport of lithium-ion batteries.  The letter made clear that CPSC considers hoverboards that do not meet these standards to be “defective” and that they “may present a substantial product hazard.”  This wording was not chosen randomly as it reflects the statutory language in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) that would allow CPSC to act in the fashion outlined in Acting Director Howell’s letter – “Should the [CPSC] encounter such products at import, we may seek detention and/or seizure. In addition, if we encounter such products domestically, we may seek a recall of these products.”

UL has issued, CPSC has spoken, now industry must respond…