Are Hoverboards Hovering Above the Law?

hoverboardBy Denise Kim

Hoverboard, glider, electric skateboard, or skywalker—the technology goes by many different names. But many in the public and the news use the term hoverboard. For those who are unfamiliar with the technology, a hoverboard is a self-balancing scooter or a two-wheeled motorized gadget that normally costs between $300-500. To operate a hoverboard, the owner leans forward to move ahead. The owner leans back on the two pressure sensitive footpads to brake or reverse. Hoverboards have become a new staple in the 21st Century. Hoverboards have also raised safety concerns.

One safety concern is that hoverboards can randomly catch on fire. Major airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest banned hoverboards from being checked in or carried on the plane. Toward the end of 2015, these safety concerns caused major panic across the U.S. and the rest of the world as many bought hoverboards for loved ones for Christmas. The airline companies cited concerns over the lithium ion batteries (which the Federal Aviation Administration regulates as hazardous materials) as the reason behind this universal ban.

Amazon recently pulled a large number of hoverboards off its U.S. and U.K. sites after asking hoverboard manufacturers to provide documentation that they followed all applicable safety standards. While following the market trends of hoverboards is certainly interesting, the legal ramifications of hoverboards are more fascinating.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received over 50 reports of injuries and fires associated with the devices as of December 10, 2015. In the U.K., hoverboards are illegal on both pavements and roads according to a guidance released by the Crown Prosecution Service. Since hoverboards are considered “powered vehicles,” the government does not permit individuals to ride them on the pavement under section 72 of the Highway Act of 1835 because they do not meet the registration requirements for road-legal vehicles (vehicles that are legally permitted to be driven or ridden on roads). Hoverboards are also currently illegal to ride in New York City under state law. New York may soon amend the law by letting cities decide whether to allow hoverboards and what protective gear to require. A new California law effective January 1, 2016 will allow riders to use the electric-powered boards in bike lanes and pathways if the rider is 16 years or older and wears the same protective gear required when wearing a bike.

The number of injuries and fires associated with hoverboards may prompt other cities to reconsider regulations related to hoverboards. Some colleges have also banned hoverboards over safety concerns. Effective January 1, 2016, individuals cannot use hoverboards on George Washington University’s campus.

As laws struggle to keep up with the increasing popularity of hoverboards, one of the main questions is whether lawmakers should regulate hoverboards in the same way skateboards and scooters are regulated or separately due to additional fire hazard concerns. Skateboarding laws are generally regulated by state and local ordinances which may restrict the time, manner, age and location in which the skateboarding may take place and usually require helmets and other safety gear to be worn at all times. In order to determine whether or not hoverboards are restricted or banned, one would look to state and local ordinances.

While the establishment of federal laws concerning hoverboards appears unlikely, it will most likely be up to states to decide how they want to legislate. For now, it appears the hoverboards may be here to stay. For those willing to take the risk and ride, at the very minimum, safety gear would be highly advised.

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