Hoverboard Safety Concerns Mount

January 6, 2016

In recent months, the safety of hoverboards has been called into question. Several instances of fire have prompted multiple bans on the recreational transportation device that despite its name doesn’t hover, but rather rolls forward and back like a sideways skate board.

Hoverboards, also known as smartboards or balance board, are also being investigated for their potential to ignite in flames in a small number of instances. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has counted 22 hoverboard fires in 17 states, according to an agency spokeswoman. One fire occurred at a kiosk at a Houston-area mall, temporarily closing the shopping center. CPSC agents are actively investigating fires caused by the boards.

In recent weeks, a hoverboard reportedly exploded in a South Carolina home. Two teens at the home received hoverboards for Christmas. One teen had just finished charging his board when the batteries combusted and flew about 20 feet across the living room, lighting a chair on fire and burning the carpet.

Burned hoverboard. Photo: CPSC
Burned hoverboard. Photo: CPSC

Last month, an Augusta, Ga., fire department issued a warning about potential fire dangers after they had to respond to a fire caused by a hoverboard. The Fire Department says in a news release that they responded to a fire at a house on Christmas Day. A resident had placed the self-balancing scooter outside. The device was heavily burned on the side that holds the charger. Inside the home, firefighters found black burn marks on two walls and the floor of the dining room. No one was injured in the fire. The release says owners shouldn’t overcharge hoverboards, and to keep an eye on them while they are charging. They advise people to use one plug per socket, and allow the device to cool off before charging. Officials say no one was injured, and Walker says the fire caused no structural damage to the home.

Louisiana State University has issued a temporary ban from students using hoverboards on campus and in campus-run housing. WAFB TV reports the LSU Department of Residential Life issued a statement saying they had made the decision to “prohibit the use, possession, or storage of electronic skateboards including self-balancing boards/scooters, and other similar equipment in all university-managed residence halls, apartments, and Greek houses.” The change comes after LSU officials met with their Risk Management and Safety board and determined that the board’s batteries can burst into flame, especially while being charged. Officials say the ban will stay in place until safety standards for all models are implemented.

Officials with Southern California’s commuter railroad, MetroLink, issued a ban as well. They said the ban was issued following safety concerns about the self-balancing, battery-powered devices. Reports of hoverboards bursting into flames have come out of at least 10 states in recent months. The ban goes into effect Jan. 4. Spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt tells City News Service that there have been no reported injury accidents involving hoverboards on Metrolink trains or at its 55 stations. She says the devices will not be seized but passengers with hoverboards will be asked to exit trains.

News of the potential fire risk prompted several U.S. airlines to ban them because of the potential fire danger.

The hoverboard, which was one of the most popular gifts this holiday season, has also been a ticket to the emergency room for some people. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it has received dozens of reports of hoverboard-related injuries across the country.

One Houston-area hospital reported treating 14 hoverboard injuries between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Doctors at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital started keeping count after they started seeing patients who had hurt themselves, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The hoverboard became the gadget to have over the last few months. Athletes and celebrities have been seen riding them. In one video, retired boxer Mike Tyson can be seen falling off one.

But doctors say hoverboard riders should wear the same gear and take the same precautions as rollerbladers or skateboarders.

“They get on these hoverboards without any protective gear whatsoever,” said Dr. David Wong of Memorial Hermann Sugar Land, an emergency room doctor who also has his own hoverboard. “They should wear wrist guards, helmets, elbow guards and knee pads.”

Spokesmen for Houston Methodist hospitals and Ben Taub Hospital in Houston also reported a handful of injuries, the Chronicle said.

According to the CPSC, some of the injuries have been serious, including concussions, fractures, contusions/abrasions, and internal organ injuries.

In a statement issued last month on the safety of hoverboards, CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye voiced his concern that there were no safety standards in place for the recreational device. “Strong safety standards protect consumers,” said Kaye. “Retailers should always be asking their suppliers if there is an applicable safety standard in place before agreeing to sell those products. The absence of any standard should cause retailers to require extra proof of sound design, manufacturing and quality control processes.”

The Associate Press contributed to this article.

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