Are hoverboards too dangerous for Santa?
Some lithium-ion batteries used in hoverboards have been linked to fires
One of the toys topping holiday wish lists this year may just be too hot to handle.
Hoverboards, also known as self-balancing scooters, may be this year's most-wanted gift, with many companies hoping to cash in on the trendy transportation device.
But safety concerns about the technology — in particular that some of the batteries and charging equipment have caused fires — are making the toy more difficult to buy, travel with and even use this holiday season.
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Hoverboards, which don't actually float above the ground, look like the Segway electric scooters minus the handle. A rider's body weight directs which way the board travels, and some can move as fast as 16 kilometres an hour.
It's also not a cheap gift. A Swagway version sells for about $550, which the company calls "a competitive low price point." On the higher end, AirWheels' most expensive hoverboard, the airboard extreme, costs nearly $1,450.
You never want to see a recreational device become a hazard like that.- Lewis Smith, Canada Safety Council
The cost isn't proving prohibitive to many adventurers, though.
EBay claims to have sold one hoverboard every 12 seconds on Cyber Monday — that's about 7,500 total. Celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa and Skrillex, have been photographed trying out the transportation device.
Hoverboard batteries linked to fires
Despite their popularity, though, some retailers are pulling the product from their virtual shelves because of safety concerns, which could make it more difficult for hoverboards to end up in Santa's gift bag over the holidays.
This month, Overstock.com announced it would stop selling these electric scooters "due to growing safety concerns," according to a company statement.
Online retail giant Amazon appears to be taking some precautionary moves as well. Some hoverboards, including Swagway, stopped appearing in Amazon search results this week. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Amazon sent a notice Friday to hoverboard makers demanding they prove their products comply with certain safety standards, including battery and charger types, Swagway said in a statement.
Swagway adheres to these standards, the company says, and is glad Amazon is working to remove "low quality boards" from its site. By Wednesday afternoon, Amazon search results once again included Swagway hoverboards.
The problems with some boards seem to stem from the type of lithium-ion battery they contain. Some low-quality or counterfeit batteries have been linked to fires.
"There are some models that are poorly made, or that are knock-off models that have batteries that can overheat and explode," says Lewis Smith, the communications and media program coordinator for the Canada Safety Council, a non-profit organization promoting safety.
"You never want to see a recreational device become a hazard like that," he says.
Major airlines ban toys from flights
In the months leading up to the holidays, U.K. border officials stopped more than 15,000 hoverboards from entering Britain, according to the National Trading Standards Board.
Many of these toys had faulty plugs that had an increased risk of the hoverboard "overheating, exploding or catching fire," the NTSB said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection have seized 164 hoverboards that had "fake batteries or other counterfeit marks," according to a statement.
In October, the London Fire Brigade in the U.K. warned hoverboard owners not to leave the boards unattended while charging. The warning came after two fires that month, one seemingly started by a charging electric unicycle and the other by a hoverboard.
Earlier this month, a Swagway hoverboard malfunctioned, caught fire and "caused considerable smoke damage" to a residence in Chappaqua, N.Y., according to a statement from the local fire department. If the residents had been away at the time, their home would have "significant fire damage."
Swagway did not respond to requests for comment about its product being involved in this incident, but it says on its website that the company uses "top quality" batteries.
Overstock.com won't re-stock the toys until the company is certain the industry has eliminated any safety risk posed by batteries, chargers or other components, said Natalie Malaszenko, the company's senior vice-president of marketing.
As concerns over the batteries grow, some airlines in the U.S. and Canada have banned travellers from bringing hoverboards as carry-on or checked luggage.
Air Canada called the move a "precautionary measure ... given safety risks associated with the size of the batteries that power them."
WestJet, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines also refuse to transport hoverboards, which could make it difficult for people who have to travel to their holiday celebrations to bring a hoverboard as a gift for someone.
Limited space for hoverboard transit
For the people who do end up unwrapping a hoverboard this holiday, there's still the question of where they can actually use it.
Some jurisdictions have outlawed hoverboards from roads and sidewalks.
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In the U.K., people can only legally ride hoverboards on private property with permission from the owner, according to the Department for Transport.
In Ontario, hoverboards aren't allowed on roads, according to an email from Bob Nichols, a senior media liaison officer for the Ministry of Transportation. Municipalities would be responsible for regulating their use on sidewalks, trails, parks and bike paths.
In Alberta, anyone commuting on a hoverboard on a sidewalk or highway could face a fine of $270, says Aaron Manton, press secretary for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation, in an email. Alberta only allows hoverboard use on private property.
In B.C., hoverboards and other new technology devices can't be used on public roads or sidewalks, according to an email from Sonia Lowe, a public affairs officer at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Anyone breaking that rule could be fined $109. Some municipal bylaws may allow hoverboards in skate parks or on paved trails, she said.
The Canada Safety Council is against "any kind of motorized recreational device" on sidewalks, Lewis says. Hoverboards should remain on private property, like residential driveways, or in parks, depending on local rules, he says.
"You don't want to see [a hoverboard] crashing into a pedestrian because, odds are, it won't end well."