Some of the devices have burst into flames, riders are eating dirt, and some retailers and air carriers won’t touch the things.
So just how safe are these hoverboards?
The toys, which are described as a combined skateboard and Segway scooter, have flooded the retail market amid the holiday shopping season. Users love them for their excitement and versatility — they can zoom as fast as 12 miles per hour and turn on a dime — but many sellers, safety watchdogs and even governments are giving them one-star reviews.
The disapproval stems from several instances of hoverboards catching fire, and posing serious risks to property and people. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is keeping an eye on more than 10 such incidents, and the photo and video evidence is, well, charred.
The hazards have prompted the CPSC to begin investigating the apparent defects of the products. ‘The challenge is to move quickly but also thoroughly and carefully,’ CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said this week. But short of that, the feds have not regulated their use.
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Other entities have been more aggressive. Riding a hoverboard in public in New York City is a finable offense. Overstock.com won’t sell them, and Amazon has flirted with limiting their sale. American, Delta, United and Southwest have banned them outright from being transported by air, and the USPS won’t fly them anywhere.
The crackdown has been harsher still in the United Kingdom, where they’re banned from public use throughout the country. The government there recently seized 15,000 imported hoverboards. And as for the ones already inside the country? Amazon UK told consumers who had purchased hoverboards lacking U.K.-compliant plugs to recycle them ‘as soon as possible.’
Given the increasing amount and severity of reactions to hoverboards, here’s what you should know about the devices before you purchase them — and how to operate them safely if you do.
Information and safety advice on using hoverboards
Consumer Reports tested three models of hoverboards at different price points ($400, $600 and $830). There’s ‘no denying’ they’re fun, CR says, but there’s some information worth keeping in mind before getting one.
One, these products are generally imported from China and given American branding. They’re not ‘brand-name.’ And it’s not necessarily easy to tell a cheap one from a pricey one. ‘Although brands at the high end of the price spectrum claim to use superior components, we could not easily verify that,’ CR’s review states. ‘We didn’t have time to dismantle the boards and test individual parts, but we did remove the outer shells and take a look inside. The design and construction for all three was strikingly similar.’
Celebrity businessman Mark Cuban, who has his own stake in the American hoverboard market, wouldn’t be surprised. ‘There are a lot of crazy back door deals at those factories so that they all buy almost all of their components from the same few sources — which means even the most expensive have some junk in them,’ he told The Daily Beast.
Here are some specific buying tips and safety advice from the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
Consumer Reports adds that it’s wise to have a spotter help balance you before taking off on one of the devices.