clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'Exploding' hoverboard scare sparks mass confiscation in the UK

Must-have toy for the holiday season, or fire hazard?

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK government, out to ruin every British child's holiday, confiscated 15,000 hoverboards at the country's ports this week, after testing showed that many of the increasingly popular self-balancing scooters were "unsafe" and potential fire hazards. The hoverboards, which are this season's hot item, were found to have serious problems with many of the components.

"Many of the items detained and sent for testing have been found to have noncompliant plugs without fuses, which increases the risk of the device overheating, exploding or catching fire," said the National Trading Standards, which is the UK's version of the Federal Trade Commission.

Faulty parts increase the risk of fire and explosion

Since October, UK inspectors have been testing hoverboards as they are shipped into the country from manufacturers, which these days are all almost exclusively in China. Of the 17,000 hoverboards examined, 15,000, or 88 percent, were confiscated for safety reasons.

Previously, the Crown Prosecution Service declared riding hoverboards on public streets in the UK to be illegal. They are banned under a section of the 1835 Highways Act, which prohibits anyone from using the sidewalk to "lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description." Apparently hoverboards fall under the "carriage of any description" clause.

"Our teams at sea ports, postal hubs, and airports have seen a significant spike in the number of unsafe ‘hoverboards' arriving at national entry points in recent weeks and are working around-the-clock to prevent dangerous items from entering the supply chain," said Lord Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards, in a statement. "Protecting consumers from harm is our top priority and our Safety at Ports and Borders teams are preventing thousands of these unsafe items from being released onto the market every day."

Hoverboards, which retail from $300 to $1,800, are the hot new toy of the season thanks to celebrities like John Legend and Kendall Jenner who Instagram themselves wobbling around on the self-balancing scooters. Dancers in Justin Bieber's "What Do You Mean" video perform routines on hoverboards, possibly Swagways. But the safety of hoverboards is increasingly coming under scrutiny.

Are Bieber's feet safe?

About a week ago, an exploding hoverboard was blamed for a house fire in Louisiana. A few days later, an Alabama man's hoverboard exploded under his feet, the horrifying moment caught on video. And the New York Police Department considers hoverboards unsafe and illegal, with violations facing a $200 fine.

Because there is no primary manufacturer, the hoverboard market is flooded with knockoffs. According to this in-depth look by BuzzFeed, Chinese manufacturers are locked in tight, high-stakes competition, with each trying to produce as many as possible to meet the growing demand from Western consumers. With lots of money flowing in both directions, safety and quality control can sometimes become an afterthought.

Surprisingly, hoverboards do not fall on the list of this year's most dangerous toys, which is compiled every year by the Boston-based World Against Toys Causing Harm, or WATCH. They do, however, land squarely in the tradition of popular, buzzed-about toys that every kid wants despite the likelihood of injury or death. Think the Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story or snap bracelets, which were super cool in '90s until the Consumer Product Safety Commission said they could potentially slash wrists. Governments can be such grinches.

Verge Video: Riding the Lexus hoverboard in Spain