Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Falls — not fires — may have been the biggest reason to fear the hoverboards

Hoverboards are keeping ERs in N.J. busy; fractures may be bigger worry than fires

A Paterson teen riding his hoverboard near Grand and New streets in the city this week.

It turns out that falls — not fires — may have been the biggest reason to fear the hoverboard this holiday season.

Over the last week, social media feeds have been filled with hoverboard photos and videos of crashes into Christmas trees, people, furniture and the ground, prompting one laughing emoji after another in response. The injuries related to the two-wheeled balance boards aren’t funny at all, however. Many have required trips to the emergency room.

Hoverboards for sale at Marcia's Attic for Kids in Englewood.

On Christmas Day alone, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood saw 14 patients in the ER with hoverboard-related injuries. Since then, there have been “a handful” more, according to a representative.

Safety tips

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued some warnings for hoverboard owners:
  • Wear the same safety gear you would use when riding a skateboard — a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.
  • Do not ride near vehicular traffic.
  • Do not charge a hoverboard overnight or when you are not able to observe the board.
  • Charge and store in an open dry area away from items that can catch fire.
  • Do not charge directly after riding. Let the device cool for an hour before charging.
  • Look for the mark of a certified national testing laboratory. While this does not rule out counterfeits, the absence of such a mark means your safety is likely not a priority for that manufacturer.

The commission urges consumers to report incidents to them at saferproducts.gov.

“There have been numerous wrist injuries occurring from falls,” emergency room doctor Bruce Felsenstein wrote in an email. “In fact our on-call orthopedist at Valley Hospital was kept quite busy attending to wrist injuries from accidents incurred from hoverboards received as Christmas presents, some of which had to be surgically repaired.”

Felsenstein saw his first hoverboard injury a couple of months ago when a child riding in his house ran into the carpet and was thrown forward, hitting his head on a wall. He said since then, there have been injuries to children and adults from falling and striking objects. Anyone riding a hoverboard should wear a helmet, wrist guards, and elbow and knee pads, according to Felsenstein.

Nationally, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, had dozens of ER visits reported because of hoverboard accidents. The injuries included concussions, fractures, bruises and scrapes.

Children aren’t the only ones trying the hot holiday gift that costs anywhere from $200 to more than $1,500 depending on the manufacturer. Adults are deciding to take the hot gift for a spin, often to disastrous — and when escaping injury, hilarious — results (Google “Mike Tyson” and “hoverboard”).

The hands-free Segways, as they are sometimes called, require riders to lean slightly forward to go forward, backward to go backward and put a little pressure on the foot in the direction the rider wants to turn.

Earlier in December, the CPSC began investigating the items because of fires apparently caused by the device’s lithium-ion batteries, especially when charging. With fear of the battery igniting, most major airlines banned them from planes and some retailers, including Amazon, stopped selling them.

This week, the Bergenfield Fire Department responded to a report of a smoking hoverboard. They were able to dismantle it before a fire started and found at least one broken wire. After the incident, the town’s fire chief cautioned residents to make sure their hoverboards are turned off and to keep an eye on them. In Lacey Township, a Smart Balance hoverboard burst into flames and caught fire inside a home. There were no injuries in either incident.

The airline rule has prompted multiple complaints, including some angry tweets from actor Russell Crowe, who apparently missed the memo — and many major news stories — on the ban and tried to take his kids’ new boards onto a Virgin Australia flight.