The hoverboard craze that swept the nation last winter might be put on hold – at least temporarily. Last month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sent out an official notice to “Manufacturers, Importers, and Retailers of Self-Balancing Scooters” urging them to  take their hoverboards off of the market until UL, an independent safety certification company, declares them safe

The CPSC was formed in 1972 through the Consumer Product Safety Act, and although most people may only hear about the CPSC when the regulatory agency addresses high-profile products such as hoverboards, it has been publishing rules and regulations relating to consumer safety in Title 16 of the Code of Regulations since 1975.

RegData quantifies federal regulations by counting the number of restriction terms (such as “shall”, “must”, and “required”) in each CFR part. As RegData provides metrics for each agency’s regulation from 1974 onward, it is easy to visualize the CPSC’s growth from its conception in the early 1970’s through today.

To do this yourself, visit RegData’s data page and download the “by agency” summary extracts.  Once you’ve opened up the data in Excel, select all of the cells and choose “Filter” under the “Data” tab. Since the department code for the Consumer Product Safety Commission is “343,” you can simply click the “dept_code” column arrow on the filter table, uncheck “Select All,” and then select the “343” tab. If you copy the filtered material and paste it to a new Excel workbook, you are left with a time series of regulatory statistics for just the CPSC as shown in the nearby figure.

Let’s say that you want to see what years the CPSC has grown the most, in terms of regulatory activity. Adding a new column, you can create a function that records the regulatory growth rate from the previous year to the current year using the formula \(Growth = \frac{R_{T} – R_{T-1}}{R_{T-1}} \times 100%\), where \(R_{T}\) stands for a regulatory statistic (words or restrictions) in year \(T\).

Graphing these growth rates—words and restrictions—on a time series plot shows us two things: a) the growth in regulatory restriction and total word count is highly correlated (as is the case with many regulators), and b) the CPSC’s regulatory growth mostly occurred in its first six years of existence. In that time, CPSC restrictions grew 324% in its first six years of publishing in the CFR just 36% in the 33 years since then. In fact, its restriction count has annual growth less than 1%, on average, for the last five years.