IT’S NO SECRET that hoverboard have a spotty safety record. The wildly popular and totally inane gadgets have a tendency to suddenly and spontaneously combust, and countless people have injured themselves falling off of them. Finally, after months of inaction, US regulators are taking the first tentative steps to do something about it.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced yesterday that is investigating a handful of manufacturers for safety violations and is also working on creating safety standards for the boards, the vast majority of which are made by the boatload in China. Australia’s already taken steps by issuing a safety warning and investigating whether further regulatory action is needed, and England limits their use to private property under the same law that governs Segway scooters.
Here in the states, some local authorities have investigated specific incidents but so far no one’s named names—until now. The CPSC says it is investigating hoverboards made by Smart BalanceWheel, Hoverboard, Yooliked, Swagway, and others, but is quick to say it has not drawn any conclusions about the safety of those products. The regulators are particularly interested in models involved in fires.
Underwriters Laboratories, which conducts OSHA-approved safety testing, issued a similar statement saying it has not certified the safety of any boards, even though some manufacturers—including Swagway—have blatantly slapped UL labels on their products. While the CPSC didn’t respond to our request for comment about this, in its press release it made it clear that “at this time, the presence of a UL mark on hoverboards or their packaging should not be an indication to consumers of the product’s safety. In fact, any such mark is at best misleading and may even be a sign of a counterfeit product.”
So what gives? Well, it seems Swagway is taking a very liberal view of UL approval. “Swagway recently learned of UL’s press release regarding Swagway’s use of UL marks on its hoverboards,” a company spokesman said. “As Swagway informed UL several weeks ago, Swagway has always ordered and used UL-certified battery cells and UL-certified adapters for its hoverboards.”
In other words, the company is arguing that although Underwriter’s Laboratory didn’t specifically certify its hoverboards, it certified the stuff that goes into its hoverboards, and, besides, it isn’t using the UL-certified label, but a different UL label. The company says it’s been talking “for weeks” to UL about this. “Indeed, at UL’s insistence, among numerous other demands, Swagway was in the process of preparing a press release regarding this issue,” the company says. “Swagway is disappointed that despite its good faith and efforts to work with UL on this issue, UL chose to unilaterally issue its polarizing press release without discussing it with Swagway.”
That may be, but John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratory, said “manufacturers’ products must be tested by UL and pass a rigorous set of safety standards in order to be eligible to bear the UL mark.”
Despite any fallout between the two companies, HX says it plans to keep working closely with UL on creating safety standards going forward. So for now, the question of hoverboard regulation and safety certification remains murky. The Consumer Product Safety Commission would like retailers to halt sales and allow consumers to return the gadgets for a refund, but so far only Amazon’s doing that.