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A move to put helmets (and pads) on hoverboard users

Hoverboards were among the most in-demand gifts this past holiday season. But the motorized skateboards also have been cause for alarm. For one thing, they're known to burst into flames.

Hoverboarding children would need to wear helmets and pads under legislation set to be introduced on Thursday in City Council.
Hoverboarding children would need to wear helmets and pads under legislation set to be introduced on Thursday in City Council.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Hoverboards were among the most in-demand gifts this past holiday season. But the motorized skateboards also have been cause for alarm. For one thing, they're known to burst into flames.

In light of those cases, and scores of reported injuries from falls off them, a member of Philadelphia City Council plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would slap adults with a $25 fine if children in their care use the boards without helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.

"People underestimate the dangers," said Michael Rivlin, a hand-and-arm specialist at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. "We have seen a number of injuries that require surgery."

Hoverboards, which sense the user's leaning to accelerate or brake, are available from several manufacturers and are priced around $300. They have been on the market for months, but gained huge popularity over the holidays.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 37 reports of the boards' catching fire, and dozens more of injuries from falls. Some have been serious, such as concussions and internal injuries, according to the agency.

Rivlin said Jefferson saw a spike in hoverboard-related injuries after Christmas - including seven in a 1 1/2-day period - and a steady flow since. He said the injuries were in two categories: children who fell while playing, and parents who fell while trying to demonstrate the boards for their kids.

Asif Ilyas, an orthopedic surgeon, said he, too, saw a rash of injuries while working on Christmas at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

"We must have seen, just [Christmas] night alone, seven or eight people in the emergency room, just in a three-hour period," he said. "People getting onto them, flying off of them, and injuring themselves."

Some jurisdictions have sought to regulate the boards.

In New York City, hoverboards are considered unregistered motor vehicles and are banned from sidewalks and streets. In California, a law that took effect Jan. 1 made the boards legal, but set rules like a speed limit (15 m.p.h.) and legal riding age (16 years).

The legislation being introduced Thursday by Councilman William K. Greenlee would apply to children 12 and under; noncompliance would result in a $25 fine for their parents or adult caretakers. The fine could go up to $300 for nonpayment.

Greenlee said he thought first of only requiring helmets, but then saw news reports of children sustaining injuries to legs and arms, and decided to include other protective gear.

"It seems like for the short period of time these things have been around, there's been a lot of problems," Greenlee said. "And particularly when it comes to children, you want to try to take some extra protection."

The legislation gained quick support from Council's one known hoverboard user, Allan Domb, a newly elected member.

Domb suffered his own hoverboard accident this month in the hallway outside his City Hall office when, as he described it, he tried a risky maneuver: accelerating quickly and jumping off the board.

"It was totally my fault," he said. "I was a reckless hoverboard user."

Domb said he was lucky to not be injured.

"The fortunate thing for me, I have built-in padding," he said. "But young people don't have the amount of built-in padding I come with."

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730@TriciaNadolny

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