The hoverboard backlash always seemed inevitable. First, there’s the misleading name. Then, there were videos of painful accidents and even hoverboards spontaneously combusting. And today, Overstock.com announced that it would no longer sell the gadgets due to safety concerns.
This is just the beginning. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is already in the midst of a massive investigation into the safety of hoverboards. This seems like a very good idea! Those two-wheeled death machines are dangerous and there are currently no safety standards in place. But help is on the way.
“The CPSC is looking into the safety of the entire product line,” Scott Wolfson, the agency’s communications director, told Gizmodo in an interview. “We have active investigations into incidents that have occurred in California, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. There have been additional incidents in Florida and Pennsylvania.”
Update 12.11.2015: Within hours of this post being published the number of active fire investigations rose to 10 investigations in nine states, Wolfson told us.
Wolfson specified that the investigation includes both accidents that caused injuries and incidents where hoverboards caught on fire. Just yesterday, a video showing a hoverboard bursting into flames in a Washington mall swept across the internet. This happened within a day of another hoverboard catching fire in a New York home and a couple weeks after a flaming hoverboard destroyed a family’s home in Louisiana. This is scary stuff.
What’s just as scary and apparently more common are the accidents that continue to send hoverboard users to the emergency room. This isn’t a huge surprise. If you’ve ever tried to ride on of these self-balancing scooters, you’ll know that there is a learning curve involved in getting them to work as advertised. You’ve probably even fallen yourself. (I know I did, the one and only time I tried to ride one of these pain machines.)
But we’re not just talking about bumps and bruises. The CPSC is in constant communication with hospitals around the country who send updates as people arrive in the emergency room with gadget-related injuries. It’s important to realize that the incidents the CPSC knows about represent only a portion of the total number.
“As of this week, we have received more than 30 reports of people that went to ER and that number is likely to grow,” Wolfson explained. “These were not minor injuries, and that is just a snapshot of hospitals that we have relationships with. They are sending us real time data and some of those injuries have resulted in one open head wound and other cases of significant trauma to the arms and legs.”
So what can be done? Let’s talk about the big picture first.
The CPSC is an agency you may have never heard of, but it’s probably saved your ass at some point. These are the watchdogs that issue recalls when defective products fail so terribly that it puts consumers at risk. The CPSC is also an enforceable agency so companies must follow its orders when they’re handed down. Based on a recent conversation with the agency’s communications director—and its scary Twitter feed full of stuff catching on fire—they do not fuck around.
As part of its on-going investigation, the CPSC is collecting various makes and models of hoverboards and testing them in a special lab outside of Washington, DC. They’re testing not only basic functionality of the futuristic little vehicles but also the battery issues that could be causing the fires.
The agency’s well familiar with this type research. You might remember about a decade ago, there were widespread reports of laptops and cell phones catching fire and even exploding due to faulty batteries. The CPSC stepped in there and worked with manufacturers to come up with a set of safety standards aimed at protecting consumers and making sure that these sorts of incidents didn’t happen again.
“This is a new product we’re talking about today,” Wolfson noted. “There’s no safety standard in place,”
And establishing a safety standard could be the outcome of the CPSC’s current hoverboard investigation. The agency is already broadcasting some safety tips that you should definitely follow, if you’re a hoverboarder.
“Regarding falls our recommendation is similar to that of a skateboard: Gear up put on a helmet and put on elbow pads and kneepads when riding a hoverboard,” Wolfson said. He added that you should never plug in your hoverboard overnight, especially since many of the reported fires occurred during charging. It’s also just sound advice since it’s much more likely that someone could get hurt or even killed if a fire starts while everyone in the house is sleeping.
So be careful out there, folks. Rest easy knowing that government watchdogs are working hard to ensure that defective or unsafe hoverboards don’t end up in the marketplace. And maybe think twice about buying one before the CPSC gets those standards in place. These gadgets are dangerous!
Illustration by Tara Jacoby / Photo via Westchester Fire Department