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It's official: hoverboard you have at home is not safe

UL says no hoverboard manufacturer to date has met new safety standard

Last month federal regulators put hoverboard manufacturers, importers and retailers on notice: don’t meet voluntary safety standards and you could face a recall.

A company called Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, is setting that new hoverboard safety standard.

The UL mark is a kind of gold seal of product safety approval.

The company has set safety standards for billions of consumer products.

The Call Christina Team spoke with the company’s safety director, John Drengenberg, to understand the testing underway at UL’s Illinois-lab and to gather fire prevention tips for the hundreds of thousands of people who already have a hoverboard.

SETTING A NEW SAFETY STANDARD:

“It is important everybody understands there is no UL certified hoverboard on the market right now,” explained Drengenberg, “so none of them meet the safety standards as far as we are aware.”

Drengenberg, referred to as “Mr. Safety”, has been with the company since 1966. 50 years ago the electrical engineer was testing radios, now he’s testing hoverboards, which have come under scrutiny after dozens started catching fire.

WEB EXTRA:  A "Call Christina" conversation with John Drengenberg about UL hoverboard safety testing  

“Certainly we know the leading causes of fire are the battery packs,” said Drengenberg to Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez.

In charge of setting a new safety standard for this hot product, UL is looking at the batteries, circuitry and assembly and they are doing that through a series of tests that includes heating up a battery cell from underneath to test for exploding projectiles.

“If one part penetrates the screen, it is a failure,” explained Drengenberg.

In the blunt nail test, engineers simulate a short circuit in a battery cell by puncturing it with a metal pin that looks like a blunt nail. In the video provided to Local 10 News by UL, at the point of puncture the cell explodes. Now consider a standard hoverboard comes with at least 20 cells in the battery pack.

“We want to make sure it vents properly. In a hoverboard there are many more batteries than there would be than say for example in your cellphone or laptop so a problem with any one of those cells can translate to the domino effect of many others in that hoverboard and can cause a fire,” stated Drengenberg.

Other tests include jamming the wheels, a 1-meter drop test on a concrete surface to explore the effect on the battery pack and enclosure, and a partial immersion test to see how it handles in rain and riding through puddles.

HOVERBOARD ON BRINK OF RETAIL EXTINCTION?:

The tests are comprehensive and there’s a lot at stake for manufacturers that don’t meet the voluntary new safety standards.


Retail giants like Target and Toys”R”Us have stopped selling hoverboards and are offering refunds amid safety concerns.

The UL tests, designed to keep you safe, may also help save the hoverboard from retail extinction.

Drengenberg tells Local 10 news they are looking forward to working with manufacturers aiming to meet the new safety standard, “We are happy to get the hoverboards on the market so people can enjoy them.”

 

HOVEBOARD SAFETY TIPS:

Drengenberg’s advice if you already have a hoverboard:

1)    Use the charger supplied by the manufacturer because it probably matches the battery pack

2)    Don’t overcharge it. Charge for the set amount of time set by the manufacturer

3)    Keep it away from combustible materials like beds, closets and drapes

4)    Do not charge the hoverboard overnight.

5)    If an incident does occur, it may be incorrect to use a fire extinguisher due to the nature of battery chemical fires. Instead, leave the area and call 911.

RETAILER REFUNDS:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said if you bought a hoverboard from Amazon you’ll get a full refund if you contact the company.  Amazon never responded to our inquiry.

In a statement posted on CPSC’s website CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye stated, “I am pleased that at least one leading retailer is erring on the side of caution and taking action now.  For consumers who purchased a hoverboard from Amazon, they can return the product right now for a full refund.  I want to commend Amazon for voluntarily stepping up, providing a free remedy and putting customer safety first.  I encourage consumers to take advantage of Amazon’s offer and to contact the company through this site.

A spokeswoman for Toys”R”Us told the Call Christina team “out of abundance of caution” the company stopped selling hoverboards. They are allowing customers who purchased the items from Toys“R”Us to return them for a full refund.

Target, which only sold the hoverboards online and not in stores, told Local 10 News consumers who have purchased a Swagway or Razor Hoverboard from Target.com and are at all concerned about product safety may return the item in store or online.

The Call Christina Team did reach out to Swagway who sent Local 10 News the following written statement, “Swagway has been actively working with the CPSC on the investigation of the"self-balancing scooters."  The CPSC recently adapted two new standards, a required standard (UN38.3) and a voluntary standard (UL2272, introduced by UL on January 29, 2016).  The original Swagway from the very beginning already meets the newly required standard and we are currently evaluating if our product complies with the new voluntary standard as recommended by the CPSC.  We stand by our products and are confident that Swagway still remains the safest on the market.”

Retailers and manufacturers interested in submitting hoverboards for product testing and/or UL certification can submit their request via the form at http://contact.ul.com/contact-ul-energy, or email RenewableEnergyQuote@ul.com.