A hoverboard is a two-wheeled, battery-powered self-balancing scooter. Like skateboards and standard scooters, hoverboards can be a lot of fun. They aren’t the most practical way to get around town—even premium hoverboards have a relatively limited range—but they make for a good way to get outside.
The question is, are hoverboards safe? Fall injuries are somewhat common, especially for inexperienced riders. And most riders are inexperienced due to age—most hoverboard riders are children. In 2015 and 2016 the average age of an injured rider was 11.
But hoverboard safety goes beyond the potential for rider injury. Hoverboards are notorious for sparking fires, and these fires have injured people and destroyed homes.
Close to 30,000 children visited the hospital with hoverboard-related injuries in 2015 and 2016.
The injuries ranged from bone fractures to sprains and bruises, with fractures being the most common, accounting for 40% of all emergency room visits. These injuries were the result of falls, either because of an accident or because the rider simply lost their balance.
Of course, anyone—not just children—can injure themselves on a hoverboard. Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician, points out why:
Hoverboards have a very low center of gravity, increasing the risk of falls. Riding one safely requires a good amount of core strength to maintain your balance. It often looks a lot easier to ride one than it really is.
One of the keys to staying injury free is wearing protective gear. It might seem like an afterthought to some, but helmets, elbow pads, and kneepads can go a long way in protecting a hoverboard rider in the event of a fall.
Wearing safety gear is one of the most important steps you can take to stay safe on a hoverboard. Here are some other safety tips to keep in mind.
- Practice in a controlled environment. It can take a while to get comfortable riding a hoverboard. Inexperienced riders should find a safe space to practice—preferably, an open area with few obstacles. Children, in particular, should be accompanied by an adult. Get comfortable riding before going out in public.
- Know the rules of the road. Under California Vehicle Code sections 21290 – 21296, it is lawful to ride an electrically motorized board on the street or sidewalk. However, local ordinances may differ. Do not ride your hoverboard without first knowing the law in your city and state.
- Don’t ride distracted. Riding a hoverboard requires your full attention. Be sure to put away any electronic devices when you operate a hoverboard.
Falls are not the only cause for concern—in 2016, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a hoverboard recall due to fire hazard.
Reports of fire sparked by hoverboards rose dramatically in 2016, just as hoverboard sales skyrocketed. The CPSC estimated that more than $2 million in property damage in 2016 had been caused by hoverboard fires.
The cause: overheating lithium-ion batteries.
Like smartphones and laptops, hoverboards come equipped with a lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion batteries are advantageous for a few reasons: they charge faster, last longer, and have a better power-to-weight ratio. But they aren’t without risk, as evidenced by the number of hoverboard fires they have caused.
Simply put, lithium-ion batteries have significant internal pressure, and with small metal fragments floating inside. When damaged or overheated, the metal fragments can puncture the battery and become exposed to air. When this happens, the battery can smoke, start a fire, or even explode. Aside from accidental damage to batteries, the overheating of hoverboard batteries occurs most often when charging.
As mentioned, major property damage and injuries have been caused by hoverboard fires. Such was the case for a Utah family—a hoverboard in their home began billowing smoke and exploded in close proximity to the family. The same happened to a family in Kingston, Massachusetts. A charging hoverboard caught fire in their home, causing upwards of $10,000 in damage.
If you own a hoverboard manufactured prior to 2017, it is important to check its recall status due to fire risk.
If you own a hoverboard manufactured prior to 2017, check the brand’s recall status. If you find that your hoverboard has been recalled, do not use or charge it. Contact the manufacturer to return the hoverboard and receive a refund.
It’s important to note that hoverboards manufactured after the 2016 and 2017 recalls are subject to stricter regulations. They must conform to UL 2272 requirements.
How can you be sure a new hoverboard is UL 2272 compliant? When buying a new hoverboard, look for the UL certification mark on the packaging. This mark indicates that the hoverboard is a compliant product. And only buy from reputable sources. Don’t buy from sellers who list hoverboards at clearance prices, or who claim that a hoverboard’s battery is UL compliant (UL 2272 compliance covers the entire hoverboard). For more information, the CPSC has a Hoverboard Information Center where you can learn about recalls and additional safety tips.
As with bikes, skateboards, and scooters, wearing protective gear when riding a hoverboard can prevent serious injuries. Unfortunately, hoverboards pose other risks. They can spontaneously combust, causing fire damage and personal injury. Be sure to check the recall status of your hoverboard before you ride or charge it.