Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 22, 2016, with news that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating and that Amazon is offering refunds for hoverboards.
Dec. 10, 2015 -- Adam Collelo thought he had bought his 12-year-old son Luke the coolest birthday present: a new $499 hoverboard.
Luke looked like he was having so much fun that Collelo, 34, decided to give it a try. "I got on, got the hang of it, and everything was going good," says Collelo, of Milwaukee.
The next day, trouble struck. "I don't know if I was overconfident, or what," he says. "I kind of Super-manned off it and somersaulted.'' Upon landing, he says, "my whole body went numb." His arm was severely swollen. At the emergency room, they confirmed that he’d fractured his radius -- a forearm bone extending from the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist. "I'll probably need 12 weeks off work," he says.
And the hoverboard? He confiscated it, and plans to sell it and give Luke the money to buy himself another birthday present.
Hoverboard Injuries, Fires
Stories like Collelo’s haven’t prevented hoverboards, also known as electric scooters, from being one of the hottest new Christmas gifts this year. They look like Segways but without the handles. Riders balance on the platform and are propelled by two wheels.
But Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), says injuries have become increasingly common in recent months. Since August 2015, the agency has received 29 reports of emergency-room injuries related to the hoverboards, and is investigating at least 10 fires in 9 states.
Multiple accounts of the devices catching fire and blowing up have been reported around the country, too. The country's three largest airlines -- Delta, United and American -- said they would no longer allow them on planes because they pose a fire hazard. New York City has banned them, with police citing an existing code against motorized scooters. And Amazon has pulled some models from its web site, reportedly asking manufacturers to prove their devices are safe to use. Amazon said in January it was offering refunds to customers who purchased a hoverboard through the site.
The CPSC said Jan. 20 it was investigating "dozens of fires" involving hoverboards, calling it a "priority investigation."
Davis says the safety commission is looking at the entire line of hoverboard products. “There aren't any standards for these products," she says.
What the Doctors and Fire Marshals Say
Basil Besh, MD, a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, says doctors are seeing more trauma injuries related to hoverboards. Riders need to have good balance on the devices, which generally don't have a handle. The faster riders go, the higher the injury risk, Besh says. The devices can go up to 12 miles per hour.
"Common sense dictates if you are going to use a hoverboard, you ought to take the same precautions as you would for using a [non-motorized] scooter, bicycle, or roller blades," he says. That means, at the bare minimum, he says, wear a certified helmet plus knee and elbow pads.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has no formal guidance or advice about the devices.
In a bulletin released in early December, the National Association of State Fire Marshals noted that it has received many reports of injuries from the ''self-balancing scooters."
Hoverboard makers say they address safety issues in their owners' manuals.
"We always advise consumers to read and understand all of the safety, learning, and riding tips in the Razor Hovertrax owner's manual, to use care, take precautions and use appropriate safety equipment to minimize the risk of an accident," says Katherine Mahoney of Razor USA, which makes Hovertrax. The device is intended for use by riders who are at least 13 years old, she says.
"Safety is a top priority for Swagway," says Nicolas Villalobos of Swagway. He says they use UL-certified adapters and authorized Samsung or LG lithium-ion batteries.
What to Look For
Philip Oakes, a spokesman for the National Association of State Fire Marshals, says the group urges caution if families want to buy a hoverboard. Buy from a reputable source, and never leave one unattended while it's charging, to lower the risks of explosions or fires. "It's not like [charging] a phone, where you wander off," Oakes says.
Other fire-marshal tips:
- Wear the same safety gear as you would on a bike.
- Don't text or operate a cell phone when riding the devices.
- If you notice the device is very hot, check with the hoverboard maker or the retailer. It could mean the battery is faulty and needs replacing.