Hoverboards: Know the Risk

Hoverboards were a hot item this holiday season and for good reason. What kid (or adult) wouldn’t want a hands free Segway that shares its name with the toy from “Back to the Future?” Fortunately, Marty McFly didn’t have to deal with his ride bursting into flames while he made his escape from Biff. (See article posted on our Facebook page,  January 7th)

You have likely seen on the news that hoverboards are causing a lot of safety concerns, as some of them have literally exploded into a ball of flames.

In South Carolina two teenagers received hoverboards for Christmas, when one of the boards exploded just after being charged. The battery combusted and flew 20 feet across the living room, lighting the carpet and a chair on fire.

Hoverboards work with the operator standing on them and using their weight to determine the direction the hoverboard goes. To go forward the operator leans slightly over his or her toes while leaning back will cause the board to roll in reverse. Leaning to the right or left will cause the so-called “smart board” to turn in the respected direction. Some models can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour and can travel up to 12-15 miles on a single charge. However, this battery is typically the cause of the reported fires.

Prices range from $300-1,800 so often times the cheaper boards will be equipped with a much cheaper battery. Many of these batteries are mass produced in China. They are basically the same type of li-ion battery that can be found in a Samsung or LG phone. However, many of the cheaper hoverboard batteries are produced with very little quality control. Overcharging the hoverboard has been linked to the boards exploding. As such, it is important to make sure to set a timer and not leave the board plugged in, unattended. The best thing to do when purchasing a hoverboard is to keep all the documentation (receipts, proof or purchase, etc.) and be sure not to remove any identifying labels so if one does catch fire whatever remains can be inspected.

However, risk of fire is not the only risk surrounding hoverboards. A hospital in the Houston area reported treating 14 hoverboard injuries between Christmas and New Year’s. Some injuries reported such as torn ligaments, broken bones, and burns, concussions, and even injuries to internal organs. Needless to say these toys need to be taken seriously and should be treated with the same respect as a skateboard, bicycle, or other similar device.

That’s why New York recently banned them from their streets and imposed a $200 fine for anyone who violates the law. While the California assembly passed a bill and on January 1st of this year AB 604 went into effect. AB 604 reverses a ban on motorized skateboards and other similar devices and places regulations on hoverboards. The new law gives regulation authority to local government to restrict their use as they see fit. The bill provides that all riders must be at least 16 years old, wearing a helmet, and must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Since, as stated above, some of these boards can reach speeds of up to 12 miles per hour wearing a helmet and pads on his or her elbow and knees is an essential safety requirement. Many riders have had difficulty stopping suddenly. It is important to practice stopping while in a controlled environment.

Be sure to follow any warnings posted on the box, the hoverboard itself, or in the user manual. Improper use could result in injury. In the event of a lawsuit against the hoverboard company for a potential negligent design, they would look to point blame on the rider for improper use. In California his is known as comparative negligence and can be very harmful to a claim against a hoverboard manufacture.  An injured rider should talk to an attorney about how their injury occurred.

While there are potential risks with this new gadget, it can still be a fun toy for kids and adults alike. If you stay away from the cheap knock-offs and are a responsible user, you should have a lot of fun “hovering” around town. Just be sure to avoid Biff and his weird future-crew.

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