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Hoverboard safety is still up in the air

My husband and I made a hoverboard part of our Christmas shopping, figuring it would make the perfect gift for our oldest daughter. She would enjoy the challenge of riding it, and we would enjoy the thrill of giving her something new and exciting, (And, as coordinator of Safe Kids Southeast Wisconsin, OF COURSE we bought her all the appropriate safety gear.)

But since then so many stories have come out about all the safety hazards associated with hoverboards, which don’t really hover as much as provide a self-balancing board with wheels.

Think of a Segway, but without handles

Those picturing a real-life version of Marty McFly’s ride in Back to the Future Part II are bound to be disappointed.

Risks to be aware of

Several colleges and universities (including Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) have at least partially banned these new hoverboards, along with some cities and even a few sports teams. Many retail outlets are also opting out. It’s not just the risk of injury from a fall or collision that has people worried; hoverboards also have been catching fire with alarming frequency — nearly 60 in more than 20 states.

The lithium-ion batteries in hoverboards have a flammable electrolyte in them, and are more powerful than the batteries in other tech such as smartphones or laptops. If they’re not of the highest quality, there can be problems, as evidenced by several online videos showing hoverboards bursting into flames.

The chairman of the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, Elliot Kaye, has been blunt in his assessment, saying, “I am not aware of a safe hoverboard in the marketplace.” He’s talking about everything that’s out there, from cheap knockoffs to top-of-the-line models.

Safety tips to follow

But if you do use a hoverboard, make sure to follow these safety tips:

  • Do not charge a hoverboard overnight or let it charge unsupervised.
  • Use the same safety gear for protection from falls that you would wear when riding a skateboard – helmet, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.
  • Adults should supervise kids to make sure that they wear appropriate safety gear and that they stay out of the street to avoid collisions with vehicles, and use the hoverboard in an open space with a smooth surface.
  • Report incidents involving hoverboards to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As for our hoverboard, it’s sitting unused collecting dust, because we’re all too scared to charge it.