Hoverboards: This Year’s Hottest Gift Isn’t the Safest
This year, the current “gotta-have” Christmas gift is the two-wheel, self-propelled device known as the hoverboard. Unlike other hot items from the past like Tickle-Me Elmo and the Rubik’s Cube, hoverboards have come under attack for major safety issues. Not only is it possible to be injured while riding them, just like you could by riding a bike or rollerblades, multiple stories have surfaced about these devices spontaneously bursting into flames because of the charger and lithium battery that powers the hoverboard. Since August 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 29 reports about people being sent to the emergency room because of hoverboard-related injuries and they’re currently looking into 10 fires in 9 different states.
BuzzFeed News reported that one hoverboard burst into flames when the battery and charger burst, sending sparks shooting around the bedroom of a house in southern Louisiana after only one ride. By the time the fire trucks arrived, the entire house was engulfed in flames and it was declared a total loss. Recently, a video of a hoverboard exploding in a mall in Washington state surfaced online where you can clearly see the device explode a second time after the first fire had been put out with fire extinguishers.
These are hardly the only reported cases of hoverboard fires. Over the past several months, fire departments in both the United States and the U.K. have reported numerous incidents involving hoverboards catching fire. On October 21, the London Fire Brigade issued a warning to hoverboards owners to keep a careful watch over their boards. Further alarm bells rang when inspectors from the UK National Trading Standards Board reported 15,000 of the 17,000, or 88%, hoverboards inspected were declared unsafe because of defects with the battery charger, cables, the cut-off switch, and the lithium ion batteries that power the board. An 88% failure rate is abysmal by any standards.
In many of the reported fire cases, the owners of the hoverboard said they had charged it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using the charger provided by the manufacturer. In some cases, the hoverboards burst into flames either due to overheating or without any discernible explanation.
To further put a damper on the “hot” Christmas gift, several airlines including Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, American, Virgin America, Frontier have banned passengers from bringing hoverboards on their airplanes. They point out the poorly constructed lithium-ion batteries could catch on fire as the reason for the ban. With so many reports of spontaneous fires, airlines have realized they simply can’t risk having a hoverboard burst into flames in the middle of a flight.
Some stores, such as Overstock.com, have done the responsible thing and stopped selling hoverboards all together because of safety concerns and have offered a refund to customers who purchased hoverboards from them. Amazon is also taking steps to keep defective hoverboards off their site by requiring sellers to provide them with documentation that the hoverboards they sell meet certain safety standards. The New York City Police Department has banned hoverboards from all public areas like streets, sidewalks, and parks. The only place they can be legally ridden is on private property.
The main source of the problem can be traced back to manufacturers in China. In their haste to supply the Christmas market, safety and manufacturing standards were ignored, if they even existed at all. In the month of October alone, China shipped over 400,000 hoverboards to overseas markets like the United States, the U.K., Australia, and other countries worldwide. In the United States, electronic devices and parts are certified as safe by an organization known as UL, but a spokesman for UL says that no hoverboard company has ever passed any of UL’s tests. However, blame can’t be placed solely on China’s regulations. The fact that the sale of so many defective and dangerous products can be legally sold in America has highlighted some serious flaws in our product safety regulation systems.
Nationwide, there have been no injuries reported because of the sparking battery chargers, but many people have ended up in emergency rooms because of injuring incurred from falling off the motorized boards.