October 21st 2015. If Back to the Future II is to be correct in it’s prophecy, we will very shortly be exposed to Jaws 19, wearing two ties and the most anticipated of inventions, the hoverboard. We haven’t managed to fulfill these prophecies as of yet, but what we do have is a new invention that allows us to move around with ease. A new segway style product labelled the hoverboard has gone from obscurity, to being a “must have” in just 1 year.
The rise of the hoverboard
A small foray into Google Trends will tell you that before March of 2014, the term “hoverboard” was a seldom searched term, with the only real interest being from fans of the Back to the Future movie franchise. However, interest has suddenly spiked and has been on an extreme upward curve ever since. The most recent spike in interest happened in the summer of this year, when celebrities around the world started posting videos of their brand new toys around the house.
Kendall Jenner doing laps
The offspring of the segway, the “self balancing two wheeled board”, originally became a reality in 2013, with the invention of the “Smart S1”, a board designed in China. Within months of the initial launch the online giant, Alibaba, had many listings of almost exact replicas from independent companies who were making copycat varieties of the S1.
Overseas in the US, a company labelled PhunkeeTree decided to make their own version and market it to the states, creating the PhunkeeDuck, which gained popularity by appearing on the much watched late night TV chat show “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. The board gained widespread popularity and it was not long before we began to see British Youtubers and celebrities place their own videos using them online (with varying degrees of success). In the UK the popular name for the boards are “Swegway” and “Hoverboard” and the product us quickly becoming popular, with sales rising month on month.
Joe Weller tries the Swegway
In the UK, the popularity of the boards has led the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider the legal status surrounding them. While they are usually bought as personal treats or gifts, which are normally used around the house, some owners have been using them as transportation out and about, once they have learned how to control their board.
Authorities have taken the stance that due to a law aged at around 180 years old, a ban has been put in place for the use of them outside of private land. Law states that because they contain a motor, they are powered vehicles and therefore usage is not allowed on pavements. In conjunction with this it has also been determined they are not safe enough to use on a road, with their top speed at being less than 5mph on average and the precarious standing balance required to pilot one.
— MPS Specials (@MPSSpecials) October 11, 2015
The banning order has created a backlash from the public, as sales of the boards have actually increased rapidly since the announcement was made from the CPS earlier in October. On some websites that sell the boards, traffic increased by “215% within 24 hours” such was the increase in interest.
The police are advising people to think of the safety implications of using hoverboards in public, while users are asking what the harm is of taking theirs onto the pavement for a quick spin.
Fun vs. Accountability
Arguments in favour of the hoverboard being usable outside of your house revolve around the common sense use of the alleged ‘vehicle’ out in public. The hoverboard is seen by many as a toy and no different to other methods of transport that are similar, which have also in the past seen spikes in interest, including bikes, skateboards and scooters. Former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Lembit Opik supports the calls to lift the ban (which includes conventional segways) stating “They are immensely environmentally friendly. They help people who have limited mobility. You are high, so are highly visible, and for short journeys in cities, which are clogged up not least because of insane investment in cycle lanes, Segways are in many ways going to be faster than cars.” He infamously participated in a segway protest outside the houses of parliament back in 2010 to challenge the law banning them from the streets.
The BBC asked the public what they thought about them with the feedback being mostly positive from those using the boards. Remarking how useful they can be, one woman commented “I think it exercises your muscles, so I use it to work out. I play with my niece on it. You can dance with it – I’ve taken it to a club. I’ve ridden it in 4in heels”. One pensioner thinking it could be a very useful tool for the elderly, said “I think it would be great for getting around supermarkets”.
In opposition, there are fears that due to their unstable nature, being around on them in public could lead to accidents involving other pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and motorists. There has been plenty of video evidence online of people trying to learn how to use the boards but struggling to properly control them. If a user was not 100% in control around a public road and accidentally veered off or fell from their board, the effect of what could happen could be catastrophic.
An added fear is of the reliability of the product itself. Badly designed versions of Hoverboards have been known to catch fire while charging, triggering a very serious product liability issue. While these types of incidents so far have been limited, the rapid growth of buys has lead to more incidents (such as this one in New York) potentially manifesting.
The battleground is between common sense vs. risk of injury. Many people are calling for the hoverboard ban to be lifted as they carry the same risks as a bike, scooter or skateboard; while on the other hand, others do not want hoverboard owners colliding with them while walking or driving, creating a potential serious injury claim minefield as legality, liability and duties of care will all potentially be disputed in each incident.
The facts ‘for’
• Seen as a toy by users
• Very similar to scooters, bikes and skateboards (all legal)
• Cannot travel fast enough to cause serious incidents
• Common sense usage will keep everyone safe
The facts ‘against’
• Law states it is a vehicle due to motor
• Unsteady driving position could be a source of accidents
• Board is difficult to control properly and prone to veering off course
• Ability to cause bruising/damage pedestrians are hit
• Currently carries no requirement for safety equipment adding to risk level
The hoverboard ban, your say
The ban on hoverboards has caused plenty of discussion online, including a petition to have it overturned by the CPS. Tweets on both sides are still being exchanged; here is a selection of your opinions on the matter:
I don't understand the ban on 'hoverboards' when scooters, electric bikes, electric kids toys, mobility scooters etc are all allowed.
— G. Wakeling (@GWakelingWriter) October 14, 2015
BAN hoverboards. Firstly under the trades description act. Secondly, because they are annoying to pedestrians.
— Dave Neal (@DaveNeal33) October 13, 2015
If they're banning swegway hoverboards they need to ban skateboards
— SAMUEL (@samuelmarsden2) October 13, 2015