Hoverboard Concerns Heat Up
What to know before you buy, charge or ride one
That hoverboard in “Back to the Future” never burst into flames while Michael J. Fox was riding it. But that’s not the case with some of the motorized two-wheel scooters that became the “hottest” thing in 2015 — in some cases, way too hot. Dubbed “hoverboards” though they don’t actually levitate, some battery-powered scooters have a bad habit of catching on fire.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received more than a dozen reports (and counting) of hoverboards catching fire in 10 states. An Alabama man took pictures of his flaming hoverboard after it combusted under his feet as he was riding it. One hoverboard blew up in a suburban mall near Seattle, Washington. And a family in Lafitte, Louisiana lost their home in a fire after the hoverboard the parents bought for their son a day earlier exploded as he was charging the batteries.
“Unfortunately, the fire that occurred involving a hoverboard is not a unique occurrence,” says Louisiana state fire marshal H. “Butch” Browning, Jr., who serves as president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals’s board of directors. “The sheer number of incidents occurring around the country, and abroad, is what prompted our organization to address this serious issue on a national level.”
The CPSC is also on the case, investigating hoverboard-related fires and searching for the cause. According to a statement:
“CPSC engineers in our National Product Testing and Evaluation Center in Maryland have tested and will continue to test new and damaged boards in search of an answer for why some models caught fire during the charging stage and others caught fire while in use. Our expert staff is looking particularly closely at the configuration of the battery packs and compatibility with the chargers.”
It cautions consumers there is no federal safety standard in place for hoverboards.
A possible battery problem
United Kingdom’s import surveillance officers inspected 32,000 hoverboards seized at ports and airports and concluded 80 percent of them were dangerous due to faulty chargers, plugs, cabling, batteries or cut-off switches, according to the Daily Mail.
Most brands are made overseas, according to The Guardian. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned that faulty design in some brands and copycat models has caused fires from problems with the batteries or chargers.
UL is a global safety certification and research organization that certifies batteries and battery chargers, among thousands of other products. But UL has not certified any hoverboards or their power supplies.Even when both a battery and charger are separately certified to be safe, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are compatible and could create a fire if the battery can't handle the output of the charger. You should keep your hoverboard away from your bed, near wrapping paper, or other combustibles when charging.
Hoverboards are illegal on the streets of New York City and in the UK. Many states ban them from public school property and shopping malls.
Major retailers, including Target, have opted not to sell them due to the potential dangers. Amazon has banned many hoverboards from its site, pending safety certification, according to Tech Times.
Meanwhile, don’t plan to fly with your hoverboard. American, Delta and United Airlines no longer allow them on flights, according to the New York Times. “While occurrences are uncommon, these batteries can spontaneously overheat and pose a fire hazard risk,” read a Delta news release. Alaska, JetBlue, Hawaiian and other airlines have followed suit.
The United States Postal Service announced it stopped shipping hoverboards by air due to potential safety hazards involving the lithium-ion batteries.
Fires, but falls, too
Hoverboards are ridden hands-free, and staying on them isn’t necessarily easy.
“CPSC has received dozens of reports of injuries from hospital ERs that we have contracts with and they continue to feed us real-time data,” read a statement from the agency. “Some of these injuries have been serious, including concussions, fractures, contusions/abrasions, and internal organ injuries. Always wear a proper helmet and padding while using this product.” And don’t ride near traffic.
Smart safety precautions
If you’re still considering buying a hoverboard, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NAFSM) advises buying only from reputable online or local stores that offer warranties.
The CPSC says, “Avoid buying the product at a location (like a mall kiosk) or on a website that does not have information about who is selling the product and how they can be contacted if there is a problem.”
The NAFSM also advises taking precautions when charging or using your hoverboard.
When charging your hoverboard:
- After you use it, give the device time to cool off prior to charging.
- Don’t leave the hoverboard unattended while charging it.
- Do not overcharge. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended charging times. Never leave the hoverboard plugged in overnight.
- Avoid knock-off chargers; they can be dangerous. Use only the charger that comes with the hoverboard.
- Keep to one plug per socket.
If a hoverboard is on your shopping list, consumer tech website CNET recommends you check the weight capacity, and “stay away from anything” selling for less than $300. Many of the devices, especially off-brands, are built overseas without adequate regulatory oversight or quality control, according to CNET.
If you own a hoverboard and experience an incident, the CSPC asks you to report it by going to www.SaferProducts.gov.