As many of you know, one of the most popular gifts this holiday season was the hoverboard – those two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered scooters that can move more than 10 miles per hour.  Perhaps you have one in your home.

There has been a lot of attention in the media regarding the potential for them to catch on fire. The assumed culprit? The lithium ion batteries. Frequently cheaply produced with little to no regulation, the separators in the lithium ion batteries (which typically keep the anode and cathode of the batteries apart) may become compromised, due to either inherent defects and/or damage from hoverboard use itself, and may lead to short circuiting and fire.

Major US airlines have banned hoverboards from flights due to this risk. Many retailers have pulled sales of popular brands. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration even issued an alert to shippers. Most recently, colleges are telling returning students to leave their hoverboards at home for fear of campus buildings catching on fire.

In addition to the fire hazard, do not underestimate the fall hazard

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been tracking hoverboard-related injuries being treated in the emergency department visits since they appeared in the marketplace this past summer. These have included concussions, fractures, sprains, and lacerations. Given the speed with which these machines can travel, this is not very surprising. While hoverboards haven't been around long enough for long-term data, we may want to look to skateboarding safety as a reference. I co-authored a study in 2002 which revealed that skateboarding injuries increased by 16,500 each year between 1998-2001, with ~100,000 people visiting the ED in 2001. Of these injuries, the most common were ankle sprain/strain and wrist fractures and 5 percent were to the head/brain. The injuries that were most likely to require hospitalization were the result of a crash with a motor vehicle.

If you do have a hoverboard…

While the easiest way to avoid hoverboard injuries is to avoid buying them in the first place, someone you know may already have a hoverboard. In that case, consider these tips:

  • Provide a spotter when your child rides. Unlike skateboards which rely on the rider to increase speed, these hoverboards may accelerate regardless of the skill of the rider. Children should never ride unsupervised.

  • Have your child wear protective gear, including a helmet, and knee/elbow pads, and wrist guards.

  • Stay out of traffic when riding. Several cities, including New York City, have banned hoverboards from the public streets.

  • Don't leave the hoverboard to charge overnight or without supervision. The charging process itself carries a higher risk of fire.

  • The CPSC lists other safety recommendations here.

Reality check

I think one of the most important things you can do as the parent in a household with a hoverboard is to not get on the self-balancing, motorized contraption yourself. Our center of balance may not be what it used to be.  Adults may be more at risk of falling and more at risk of getting injured given a fall.

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