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ALL They Want For Christmas is A Hoverboard. But...

hoverboard2Hoverboards. If you've watched or read the news in the past couple of months or if you have a tween or teen in your life, you've undoubtedly heard the term "hoverboard," and likely it's been along with the phrase "...but all my friends are getting one," or "I've never wanted anything so badly in my life."

"Hoverboard" is actually a misnomer. The board doesn't actually hover; it runs on two wheels. It's more of a "personal transportation device (PTD)." What's been coined a hoverboard is actually a self-balancing, electric board of sorts. Your feet stand parallel on a wheeled board rather than one behind another like on a skateboard. They move at various speeds depending on the model and are the hottest item on kids' wish lists this year for the holidays. Priced from $200-$2,000, a hoverboard is a big ticket item. Most of the better quality ones cost between $400-$600 depending on their bells and whistles, such as speakers.

I had the chance to try out a hoverboard with hoverboard1my husband late one night in Times Square at a pop-up store. Two models from Samsung were on sale; one for $399 and one for $599. The (sketchy) sales guy told us he charges $10 per person to try it out but the look on my face must have told him that there was no way were doing that, so he caved and let us try it out for free. Wow. I kicked off my heels and listened to the basic instructions then went for a pretty thrilling ride around the store. Seriously, it's cool. It's odd that they are being sold right in Times Square as it's already illegal to ride a hoverboard on the streets and sidewalks in Manhattan. (They're illegal to ride in public in Great Britain so don't expect to see the Queen on one either.)

So, are you the best parents in the world for getting your kid a hoverboard? Or should you think twice?

In the last year, there were at least 11 reports of fires and explosions related to hoverboards in 10 states, but those were thought to be due to cheaper lithium-ion batteries used in knock-off versions of the more legitimate (and expensive) brands like Samsung, Swagway, and LG.

hoverboardfireHowever, last week was a game changer for hoverboards and it hit close to home for Scarsdale. A Swagway brand hoverboard (generally considered one of the most trusted brands) purchased from Modell's Sporting Goods (with a Samsung battery) caught fire while charging in Chappaqua and caused significant damage to the homeowner's house. Thankfully, the residents were home and they were able to put out the fire before the entire house lit up in flames. Since this incident with the higher-end hoverboard in Chappaqua, Amazon.com removed most brands of boards from its inventory and Overstock.com removed all boards from its shelves. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating this incident and others. A lawsuit has been filed against Swagway and Modell's by the Chappaqua homeowner and Swagway is currently denying that any fires have been associated with their boards. http://fortune.com/2015/12/16/hoverboard-swagway-lawsuit/

Preeti Singh bought a board for her 16-year-old. She is aware of the safety concerns. "I make sure that the charging happens when we are around so if it blows up the mishap can be contained ASAP," she said. Ms. Singh is referring to reports that hoverboards are catching fire while charging. However, when I dug deeper, half of all fire and explosion reports related to these devices occur while the board is in use or at rest. (The board in Chappaqua was charging for a mere 45-minutes when it exploded!)

I had a chance to speak with the Village of Scarsdale Fire Inspector, Al Mignone. He reiterated the fact that not all boards are exploding while charging. He's quite familiar with lithium-ion batteries and the fire risk they pose if not properly secured or used. "I'm worried about transporting these things," he said. "If it explodes while transporting it in your trunk, your car will catch fire." He reminded me of the cell phone fires caused by lithium-ion batteries bending in the flip phones. "If this type of battery bends or crimps or shorts out, you're in trouble." He continued by saying that these have come on the market so quickly that there's been no time to regulate the safety of these devices but what is definite at this point is that the hoverboards pose a fire hazard and no one knows why. Several airlines have banned them from flight until the reasons for the explosions and fires can be determined.

Some people are buying knee pads and elbow pads to use while riding, but this seems almost silly in light of the potential risk of an explosion. Also keep in mind that given the ongoing investigations, a recall of certain brands or models or even a full hoverboard recall is possible. There is no data about the safety of these boards, they are unregulated, there have been no tried and true fixes to the fire hazard, and there is no definitive answer for why some have caught fire.

Do your research, and please let us know in the comments if you're in the "hoverboard" market or not and why!

Comments   

0 #1 Stacie Waldman 2015-12-17 15:33
Since publishing this article, 3 people have commented that they know someone who has had a SERIOUS injury while operating a Hoverboard. One person shattered her wrist and needed surgery; 2 kids had severe concussions including one who had bleeding on his brain.
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