Almost as quickly as the trend was taking off, it seemed like regulators across the country were eager to swoop in and enact new laws for hoverboards restricting their sale and use. Their justification? Hoverboards are “dangerous,” so the use of these gadgets must be carefully monitored.
Coupled with reports to the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) about people taking nasty tumbles off the devices, and stories of cheaper hoverboards exploding in frightening fashion, and it didn’t take long for various organizations to start cracking down.
These measures have gone to such a degree that it’s difficult to make heads or tails of what’s legal in certain parts of the country. Is all the fuss warranted? Or is it time to lift some of the bans that many say were put in place too hastily?
The Current Stance on Hoverboards
In 2016, the CPSC recalled over 500,000 boards due to safety concerns. Fearing that the batteries on many popular hoverboard brands presented a risk of explosion and fire, and recording incidents of that precise scenario occurring, the CPSC issued the grievous blow to the hoverboard industry, and went a step further by casting aspersions on boards that were still out on the market.
More recently, they set their sights on hoverboard manufacturer LayZ Board following a fatal house fire (believed to be the first hoverboard fire-related fatality in the United States). Indeed, a quick search on the CPSC website for “hoverboards” will reveal press release after press release regarding the perceived dangers of the devices and recalls of a great many brands “due to fire hazards.”
Considering this, it isn’t difficult to comprehend why the cavalcade of concern and self balancing scooter bans began. Here’s a sampling of the regulations that occurred in 2015 & 2016:
That’s not all. Even American colleges and universities feared spontaneous hoverboard combustion. In 2016, that list amounted to about 30 institutions of higher learning, which you can view here.
In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority banned hoverboards from just about every mode of public transport in the city, again, citing safety concerns. In 2016, California also introduced tighter restrictions on the devices:
“Effective Jan. 1, those riding hoverboards on public roadways are required to stay on roads with a speed of 35 miles per hour or less, wear a helmet, stay in the bike lane, and not to go over 15 miles per hour. Also, users must be over the age of 16 to ride the boards on public roadways.”
So, while they are still legal to own, operating hoverboards in public isn’t such a cut and dried issue, and the sources for obtaining one seem to be increasingly limited due to numerous recalls and the import situation. Does it have to be this way, though?
The federal standard for safety in both the US and Canada is the UL 2272 Certification. These stringent requirements set forth by the government ensure that hoverboards on the market won’t be hazardous to users.[ Always make sure that your hoverboard is UL2272 certified for safety. Avoid non certified products and fake brands.
Are All the Bans Really Necessary?
On the face of it, you might be tempted to say “yes.” The safety argument seems persuasive, as one opinion piece from the Cavalier Daily (the University of Virginia’s collegiate newspaper) puts it:
“The University already prohibits halogen lamps without bulb guards, a policy motivated by the release of a CPSC safety alert. Such lamps have been known to cause fires, including here at the University. Other banned items include lightweight extension cords, which cannot be used as permanent wiring by fire code.”
“What might appear to be a hasty administrative reaction to a novel behavior among students is actually in line with the way safety professionals have responded to other hazardous devices on Grounds.”
Indeed, this line of reasoning has been applied to many of the regulations currently in existence, and they point out that airlines and entire cities (like New York) have implemented similar restrictions on the same grounds.
As Tech Crunch author Fitz Tepper rightly points out, however, this reaction overlooks a critical detail:
“Do these colleges know that hoverboards aren’t the only gadgets that can be made with faulty, cheap lithium-ion batteries, and other devices like cameras, phones, and laptops also occasionally blow up? If you want to ban off-brand hoverboards, why not just ban all off-brand electronics?”
And if safety is the concern, why not just look at the numbers? This WebMD article states that the CPSC was investigating 29 emergency room incidents related to hoverboards along with ten potential fires in late 2015. An analysis of available injury data hinted at a spike in “motorized scooter” category that includes hoverboards in late 2015 as well.
Look at the total number of hoverboards sold in 2015, however. That number is a staggering 2,578,000 in the United States. Compared to the total, the number of injuries, along with the fire risk, is low. It’s also worth noting that the spike occurred during the holiday season when many people purchased new hoverboards and weren’t altogether sure how to operate them correctly.
Instead of out and out bans on hoverboards, why not take steps to further limit the “fire risks” and spread more knowledge of how to prevent injuries while riding?
Several manufacturers have already undergone the process for gaining UL certification for their boards to improve their electrical safety, and the most common hoverboard injuries (along with the best ways to prevent them) are already well-known.
In summation, yes, there is a potential for injury while using a hoverboard, same as just about any other battery-powered device you could conceive. The current regulations, though they come from the motivation of keeping people safe, seem too heavy-handed, and more knowledge about selecting the right hoverboards and staying injury-free while riding is a much more even-headed approach than outright public bans. Always make sure that your hoverboard is UL2272 certified for safety. Avoid non certified products and fake brands.