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New Rules May Raise Cost of Buying Gadgets Online 171

ericatcw writes "Buying your next laptop or smartphone online could suddenly get a lot more expensive if a little-known US Department of Transportation proposal to tighten rules around the shipment of small, Lithium-Ion battery-powered devices by air goes through, says an industry group opposing the move. The changes, designed primarily to reduce the risk from Lithium-Ion batteries, would also forbid air travelers from carrying spare alkaline or NiMH batteries in their checked-in luggage, according to the head of the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association. The proposal is under review until March 12. It can be viewed and commented upon by members of the public."
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New Rules May Raise Cost of Buying Gadgets Online

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  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @05:37AM (#31044268) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. Look at it. Just look at it:
      http://xkcd.com/651/ [xkcd.com]

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @05:40AM (#31044274)

    The proposed rule itself is pretty inscrutable (as usual, I suppose), but the article's examples are all over the map. Some of the examples seem like the small-scale sort of thing that would indeed cause inconvenience to ban: individual electronic devices sent air-freight from NewEgg to a consumer, or spare batteries in checked luggage. But it also mentions that existing regulations exempt "a pallet containing thousands of lithium batteries" from hazardous-material reporting and packaging requirements... and in that case the change doesn't seem too unreasonable to me, because maybe a pallet with thousands of batteries really should be subjected to the packaging and reporting requirements?

  • by cl191 ( 831857 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @05:40AM (#31044276)
    "would also forbid air travelers from carrying spare alkaline or NiMH batteries in their checked-in luggage" If it's so "dangerous" to be in the checked bags, then why is it safe to be on carry-on bags?
  • pain profit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jesus_Corpse ( 190811 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @05:55AM (#31044332)

    This would result in all the gadgets I use in flight (Nintendo DS, iPod, Laptop) to be stocked away, making airtravel an even bigger pain in the ass.
    How many incidents with batteries occur anyway? The figures suggest that a small percentage of all batteries are potentially dangerous, and I've never seen figures of how many people die of these batteries. Small fires can be put out by the cabin crew, and it certainly sounds it's going to cost a lot more than it will generate in terms of safety

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @06:08AM (#31044374) Homepage

    And how many cases have we seen of batteries actually starting to burn by themselves?

    Known cases have been when the battery has been in the device itself, or while it was charged. Not when it was alone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 06, 2010 @06:08AM (#31044378)

    Usually technology advances over time.

    But due to the paranoid delusions of many, many Americans, air travel is now less convenient than it was 20 years ago.

    I'm just waiting for a sufficiently determined biochemist to lock herself in the airplane restroom, amputate her own leg, separate it into its constituent compounds, and synthesize an explosive charge. After that, they'll presumably decide to have everyone travel pre-dissected in little vials, maybe split up onto different flights just in case.

    On second thought, I take that back. Nobody will ever do such a thing, or even consider it, but some petty official in the Department of Homeland Security will read this post and preemptively issue an internal memo. The memo will travel through the hands of ten other petty officials, becoming more and more terrifying to each, until it arrives at the desk of someone with more power and paranoia than the average public servant. He'll read it, scream into his Homeland Security terror blanket, and have his secretary pull strings to enact the dissection-before-travel rule.

    Please don't blame me.

  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @06:25AM (#31044430)

    "would also forbid air travelers from carrying spare alkaline or NiMH batteries in their checked-in luggage" If it's so "dangerous" to be in the checked bags, then why is it safe to be on carry-on bags?

    You're asking the wrong question. The right question is, "are spare alkaline or NiMH batteries in checked-in luggage are a safety risk?" The question can be answered objectively, rather than theoretically, because people have been stashing their batteries in checked-in luggage for decades. Right, batteries in checked-in luggage are an accident waiting to happen. We've been waiting, {and waiting,}* ... but nothing happened.

  • Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Saturday February 06, 2010 @06:32AM (#31044456)

    Forbid forbid forbid, that's all I hear coming out of the "land of the free" lately. I went to the US 2 months ago, and I have never heard "you can't" as often as I did when I was there.

  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @06:35AM (#31044476) Homepage Journal

    But due to the paranoid delusions of many, many Americans, air travel is now less convenient than it was 20 years ago.

    It's true. Usually we drive from North Dallas to my mother's family's house an hour west of San Antonio. It's about 6 hours by car on average, since we only travel down there on busy holiday weekends. Finally with a good job I decided to "treat" us to a 45 minute plane ride. Between parking, security, waiting on the tarmac, picking up luggage and getting the rental car it actually took us 7 hours to get to our destination. I'm seriously looking at starting a PAC to get high speed light rail between Dallas and San Antonio (with a stop in Austin of course).

  • by screff ( 1201383 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:33AM (#31044708)
    As a resident of Hawaii this proposal causes me great concern. The majority of the people here buy electronics items online that come by air shipping. The price is generally 10-20% cheaper online due to the high cost of living out here. It sounds like a real boon to the local merchants but it sucks for the consumer looking for the best prices. I know we're small but I hope they think of us before they enact this ban.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:53AM (#31045200) Homepage Journal

    Flight baggage are written with the convenience of the rules enforcer. Not the passenger.

    If you think that through, it makes sense to do it that way.

    The laptop battery installed in a laptop is properly stored. The laptop battery kicking around in somebody's suitcase is not necessarily so. Most accidents are a compound of events people thought unlikely: it is unlikely that a laptop battery will explode due to redundant safety features (unless it is a cheap knock-off, which are sometimes produced in the same Chinese factories as the real thing). It is unlikely that something stored properly could cause a problem. We count on that redundancy in case one of the assumptions fails. Don't forget that the ValuJet crash way back in the 90s was due to shipping the same oxygen generators that sit over every passenger's seat. In that storage setup, a faulty detonation results in the mask dropping in front of the passenger. In a crate of oxygen generators down in the old, it was fatal to everyone.

    Here is a cautionary tale about storing batteries properly. Just recently I took three dead button batteries and put them in my pants pockets rather than get up and put them in the trash. I forgot I had them there and the next day I was sitting at the table and was surprised by an explosion in my pocket. It was small explosion by normal standards, but there is no such thing as a small explosion when it happens in your pants. (Gee that sounds like an aphorism.) I felt the electrolyte leaking onto my leg and immediately pulled my pants down. Good thing this wasn't at work. Now I knew I shouldn't have put those batteries in my pocket, but you could walk around with button batteries in your pocket every day of your life and never have something like that happen. I counted on it not happening in the fifteen minutes I expected to have them there. Everybody does things like that they know they shouldn't do. Now multiply that by thousands of times, and put tens of thousands of lives at risk.

    Anyhow, the point is that we could train TSA guys to be able determine whether a laptop battery was safely stored. It wouldn't be hard. But that's one of hundreds, maybe thousands of cases. What you *really* need to do is to hire people who've gone through the equivalent of an associate's degree program on engineering and safety, put them through stringent application tests and continually retrain and restest them. Then you'd get much better security and much less hassle.

    But guess what? We as a people would rather put up with the hassle than pay for safety AND convenience. That's not an entirely irrational point of view either. You've got to draw the line somewhere, and no matter where you draw that line, somebody will be inconvenienced unnecessarily. Take model rocket enthusiasts. They *should* in an ideal world, be able to take most of their stuff aboard a plane if it is properly stowed. But a ruleset that encompassed all such cases would be so large that the people enforcing them couldn't know them by heart. They'd be sifting through the rulebook on every passenger.

    Naturally, the rules *could* be made better. But it's not easy to come up with rules that (a) inconvenience nobody unnecessarily and (b) can be implemented everywhere with affordable personnel and (c) don't cause traffic jams at security gates. Oh, yes and (d) which keep people safe. It takes years. It's been almost a decade since 9/11, and even if rules hadn't been side tracked by security theater, you wouldn't expect the rules to be perfect.

  • by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:19PM (#31046418) Homepage Journal

    Total annual value of all imports and exports is in the $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion range. Even at a rate of 10% , it wouldn't pay for half of the current military needs.

  • by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @02:35PM (#31046960)

    After the Great Battery Scare last year with all those laptops combusting spontaneously their was little choice but to start with at least some regulation regarding the combustable nature of these batteries.

    The "Great Battery Scare", in caps!? Lol ...oh yes, I remember how everyone I know was so terrified of batteries all last year. Exploding all over the place as they were. I was having so many nightmares about batteries. Communities were crying out all over the country to their leaders, do something, do something about these darn batteries terrifying us all. YMBFJ.

    Seriously, this desperate need to paranoidly cry for 'regulation' in the face of just about any completely statistically insignificant 'threat' should be classified as a mental illness and treated as such.

  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @04:26PM (#31047672) Journal

    Even at a rate of 10% , it wouldn't pay for half of the current military expenditures.

    There. Fixed that for you.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:07PM (#31049436)
    Did YOU miss the part in the citation you quote above where it says "non-rechargeable"?

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle