Holiday "Hoverboard" Craze Underscores Risks of Lithium Batteries

Posted on 12/4/2015 by Roger Marks

Update 12/28/15: Citing a large number of incorrectly prepared shipments of "hoverboards" or "balance boards" containing lithium batteries, the US Department of Transportation released a transportation Safety Alert for these products on December 24 that guides shippers on the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) for shipping lithium batteries by ground, air, vessel, or rail. 

Update 12/09/15: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has issued a guidance document to help airlines understand the requirements for lithium-battery powered "small vehicles" in carry-on or checked luggage. View the IATA guidance document here. 
Consumers wishing to take their balance gliders, or “hoverboards,” aboard an aircraft are experiencing issues flying this holiday season. Hoverboards are scooters that can be operated hands-free, and they are one of many consumer products powered by lithium batteries.

Hoverboards may be new, but the hazards posed by lithium batteries are not. A big share of consumer electronics are now powered by lithium batteries—from cell phones, tablets, and laptops to personal conveyances like lithium battery–powered bikes, scooters, surf boards, and even cars. The surge in popularity has led to more lithium batteries being shipped by ground and air in the US.

Airlines Acting to Prevent In-flight Hazards

Major airlines like United, American, JetBlue, Delta, Virgin, and Southwest, have different rules concerning lithium battery–powered hoverboards. Some airlines are allowing them as checked luggage, while others require the battery to be removed first. Some allow hoverboards as a carry-on only, while others ban them outright.   

Click here to read about how lithium batteries become a transport and workplace hazard.

lithium battery powered hoverboard

Lithium batteries that are defective or not packaged correctly may short-circuit in transit, leading to a condition known as “thermal runaway.” In thermal runaway, heat in the battery feeds the current, which accelerates the chemical reaction rate in the battery. This produces more heat, starting the “cycle” over, and ultimately leading to fire, venting of hazardous gases, harmful smoke, and even explosions.

Recent Changes to Domestic and International Lithium Battery Rules

Under current US DOT lithium battery regulations, spare lithium ion and lithium metal batteries cannot be packed in checked luggage. Manufacturers and shippers must follow strict hazmat regulations that limit the number and size of lithium batteries that can be shipped by passenger or cargo plane.

New hazmat rules for lithium batteries took effect this year in August and include three major components: new definitions added to the Hazardous Materials Regulations, incorporation of new shipping names for lithium batteries, and a dramatic cut to the exceptions for “small” lithium batteries. Read more about 2015 lithium battery rules here.

Be Ready to Ship Lithium Batteries

If you or if business plans to ship the new hoverboards or anything else powered by a lithium battery this holiday season, it’s crucial that you know the latest rules. Having your shipment rejected or delayed is costly, especially this time of year. Be confident your lithium battery shipments are in full compliance, whether you ship batteries in your products, with your products, or by themselves.  

The Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course covers the latest rules for classifying, packaging, marking, labeling, and loading lithium batteries for transport by ground (49 CFR), air (IATA DGR), and vessel (IMDG Code). Don’t wait to learn the latest rules; sign up now! 

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, lithium batteries

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