PHMSA Warns of Criminal Liability for Hoverboard Issues

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By Rachel Leven

Dec. 28 — The nation's hazmat transport regulator issued a safety alert Dec. 24 urging shippers to properly prepare for the transport of hoverboards that contain lithium batteries, which can explode or be an ignition source for fires, and warning of significant civil penalties and potential criminal liability for violations.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released the alert after investigators intercepted more than 30 cargo containers of hoverboards containing lithium batteries that it found were inappropriately prepared for shipment. More than 80 percent of the shippers associated with the cargo couldn't prove that the lithium batteries had been properly tested and prepared for transport, the agency said.

“Hoverboards are among the top gifts of the 2015 holiday season and DOT [the Transportation Department] is working to ensure that hoverboards containing lithium batteries are safely transported,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a news release.

The alert builds on rapidly increasing public and private sector concerns related to the movement and general safety of hoverboards with lithium batteries.

In December alone, the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched an investigation into the safety of these toys, several major airlines such as Delta Air Lines banned them from their aircraft, and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) urged the Energy Department to research the lithium batteries contained in the boards.

The U.S. Postal Service has also said it will only ship hoverboards by ground transportation because of the potential hazards associated with lithium batteries.

The debate is not only about the safety of built-to-regulation products but the safety of those that have been willfully faked or mislabeled. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Dec. 11 that it has seized more than 160 hoverboards that had fake batteries or counterfeit markings. Delta said it has found that some hoverboards have contained batteries above the 160 watt hour government limit.

“Blaming reputable battery manufacturers for the hoverboard's safety problems is incorrect and unfair,” George Kerchner, executive director for the PRBA—the Rechargeable Battery Association, said in a statement Dec. 18, following the announcements by Delta, the customs agency and others.

“We do have concerns about a handful of companies willing to manufacture and ship products containing poorly manufactured lithium ion batteries rushed to market in order to meet consumer demand during the holiday season.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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The safety alert is available at