Should 'Hoverboards' be a Safety Concern?

by Natasha Mughal

There has been a lot of talk recently about 'hoverboards', especially after “Back to the Future Day”, and the self-balancing segways are set to be this years Christmas must-have gadget.

As the boards appear more and more on the streets, we wonder whether the gadget is actually safe, if it is a nuisance to society, and if it is even legal to ride around on. We decided to delve a little deeper to find out more, and make our own minds up about the futuristic contraption, to see if it actually poses a health and safety risk.

Where do they originate from?

The gadget was first patented in China by two different companies in 2013, but it is not known which was first because of lax Chinese patent enforcements. The board has various names, such as Swegway, self-balancing scooter, rideable and mini-segway. It is operated somewhat like a Segway, but with no hand-held steering, it looks like a skateboard.

The name ‘hoverboard’, is a nickname for the gadget that is also a nod to Back to the Future 2. The popularity of the gadget may be down to celebrities, such as Chris Brown and Justin Bieber, being seen on social media riding around on them, and this presence within celebrity culture is likely to be a reason the boards popularity is higher amongst teenagers and young adults.


"As the boards are self-balancing, it can take time to get the hang of how to use one. Unlike skateboards or roller-skates, they are electronically powered, posing much more of a risk to pedestrians and vehicles around them"


Are they actually legal?

They are not legal to ride in public areas or on roads, which may be a blessing to the rest of the public as they can be a slight nuisance, but they are permitted on private-property, as long as you have the landowner’s permission. And now because of a Highway Act that dates back to 1835, it is an offence to ride a ‘hoverboard’ on the pavement.

However, this does not seem to have deterred anyone from buying the gadget, even though it retails from £400 to £1000, as sales rose for Eid in September this year and are expected to continue to rise for Black Friday and Christmas.

What are the safety concerns?

As the boards are self-balancing, it can take time to get the hang of how to use one. Unlike skateboards or roller-skates, these boards are electronically powered, and therefore pose much more of a risk to pedestrians and vehicles around them should the user lose control.

Despite coming with a safety and instruction manual, there is no formal training on how to use them, and some models can reach up to 10mph. Also after reports of 'hoverboards' exploding and causing fires, the safety of the gadget is also being questioned. The problem appears to be the chargers of the item, as some are sold with non-compliant chargers, which is similar to reports of some mobile phone explosions, which can make the board short-circuit, overheat, explode and catch fire. This has led to £20,000 worth of boards being seized in Greater Manchester, and four shipments of 100 boards from China to be intercepted at Glasgow Airport.

The gadgets do not have any safety regulations attached to them, nor safety checks, and anyone is permissible to ride one. This is as well as reports of crime concerning the gadget, one particular incident being where a man was held at knifepoint and threated for his board. Regardless of these concerns, the popularity of the gadget does not appear to be halting anytime soon, but it is being questioned whether it will add to the concern of obesity amongst young people.

At the moment, the bigger version of the ‘hoverboard’, the Segway, is being used by many companies in factories and even some police forces are using them to patrol certain areas. Segways are increasingly being tried and tested as alternative transport because they are cheaper to produce than a car, yet fast and reasonably safe. It is most likely that in the future, both the Segway and mini-Segway’s, popularity of the gadget will heighten to them being used even more so in public because of these reasons. However, the true health and safety implications still remain unclear.

What is your view on the popularity of this gadget? Do you own one? Do you feel they are a safety concern? Let us know by tweeting us @HSE_Jobs.


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