The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is warning drivers of commercial motor vehicles about explosions, serious personal injuries and fires that occur with battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices:
Transporting battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices has resulted in explosions, which are regularly involved when ejecting a burning battery case or other components from the device which then ignited nearby flammable or combustible materials.
Battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices were first patented in 2003 and have been available for sale in the United States since 20071. These devices have been rapidly growing in popularity as the number and selection of products expand. The devices contain a liquid, an atomizer or heating element, and a battery.
When the device is operated, the heating element vaporizes the liquid which is inhaled by the user in the same way as traditional smoking methods.
News reports place the number of explosions at more than 1,5022. There have also been media reports on the use of these devices such as a May 1, 2016, report posted on News-Pressnow.com3. A number of these incidents have occurred while the device was charging up, while others have occurred during use or while carrying the device on one’s person.
As a result of incidents related to checked baggage, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 15003, citing fires in cargo holds of passenger aircraft due to the heating element of these devices being accidentally activated or left on.
These incidents and risks prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to publish a final rule on May 19, 2016 (Docket HM-262; 81 FR 31529) prohibiting passengers and crew members from carrying battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage and from charging the devices and their batteries on board an aircraft.
While no similar action addresses the risks associated with checked items in the baggage compartment of busses or the charging of these devices by motor coach passengers, these incidents highlight the potential safety risks to persons and property from the possession, storage, charging and use of these devices in the highway transportation environment.
The Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) do not specifically address the potential safety risks posed by battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices. However, motor carriers and drivers should be aware of the risks associated with these devices and exercise good judgment and proper discretion in their possession, storage, charging or use on, around or while operating a CMV, and adhere to the smoking prohibitions on, near or when loading and unloading a motor vehicle transporting hazardous materials in accordance with 49 CFR 177.834(c) and 397.13.
1 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Fire Administration. (2014). Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions. Retrieved from https://usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf
2 Daily Hornet. (2016, May 17). E-Cigarette Explosion Injuries on the Rise. Retrieved from https://dailyhornet.com/2016/e- cigarette-explosion-injuries-on-the-rise-warning-graphic
3 News-Pressnow.com. (2016, May 1) Local Man Injured by Electronic Cigarette Battery Explosion. Retrieved from https://www.newspressnow.com/news/local_news/article_f60d5ddc-5f4e-5253-8eb0-84504e546ac2.html