A few months back, I read an article about hoverboards and how they were destined to become the "it" toy of the year. I immediately thought about getting one for my eldest, but the more I checked them out, the less sure I was that it would be a good fit. There's no learning curve with a hoverboard. Once you're on it, it starts moving. And riders have to figure out how it's going to respond while traveling at speeds of about 6-12 mph. Um, I think I'll pass for now.
But hoverboards have become the big toy this year, and many parents are only now beginning to understand the implications of that shiny new toy they bought. Over the past few months, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (or CPSC) has identified 39 emergency room visits related to hoverboard falls. Most of these have been the standard fractures, sprains and abrasions. But there have also been a number of serious head injuries and at least one fatality when a boy in London fell off his hoverboard into the path of an oncoming bus.
The reason behind the injuries is easy to understand. Consumer Reports recently tested several hoverboard models and found them fun to ride but easy to fall off of. Each wheel of the hoverboard operates independently and responds to slight changes in pressure from the rider's weight. Press with your toes and the board moves forward. Press with your heels and it goes backward. That's all well and good — until you encounter something that throws you off your game. From the Consumer Reports test:
"In our tests, we found that an unexpected obstruction — even a small stick, pebble, dip, or bump in the sidewalk — can jolt the rider into shifting his or her weight from one side to the other. That shift can make the wheel on one side speed up or slow down, forcing the hoverboard into an unplanned turn. When that happens, it’s very easy to fall."
But here's the thing. Skateboards, bicycles, roller skates — all of these toys can be dangerous without the proper safety precautions. So I'm not saying that hoverboards are bad, more that we haven't really thought through how to make them safe yet. Bikes have training wheels while skates and boards often have "learner" modes that kids (and adults,) can use to progressively learn the skills needed for a safe ride. And kids need to learn that they can't just hop on a hoverboard and take off down the street. Helmets are a must — Consumer Reports recommends a skateboarding or dual-use helmet — and knee and elbow pads can also help prevent serious injuries.
But falls are only one of the worrisome safety issues facing hoverboards. There's also the fact that some models seem to be inexplicably and unexpectedly bursting into flames. The CPSC is currently investigating at least 11 such incidents. One family in Louisiana lost their home when a hoverboard exploded while it was charging. Footage has also been captured of a hoverboard catching fire as a man rode it down a sidewalk in Alabama, and one of the gadgets caught fire in a mall in Washington state as holiday shoppers watched.
And let's not even get into the fact that hoverboards don't actually hover, much to the disappointment of this "Back to the Future" fan.
Bottom line: Hoverboard manufacturers need to work out a few kinks. Considering how quickly these things skyrocketed in popularity, it hopefully won't take long before they do that.