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Hoverboards: New device, existing law?


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Hoverboards: New device, existing law?

Kevin Decker

IN BRIEF

The fire and fall dangers associated with hoverboards have been well documented. These notorious devices face civil litigation, regulation, bans, and now a possible nationwide recall. Individuals, businesses, and municipalities concerned about hoverboard risks have several options, including some under existing law, for addressing those concerns.

 

Hoverboards continue to explode (literally and figuratively). Hoverboards enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity fueled by high-profile celebrity use and their status as a holiday “it” item—at least, until news and social media spread numerous stories about hoverboards bursting into flames and videos of hoverboard users falling off their new devices. Those incidents have led to lawsuits and prompted numerous colleges and universities to ban hoverboards from their campuses.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently warned hoverboard manufacturers, importers, and retailers that it may seek the seizure or recall of hoverboards that do not comply with voluntary safety standards. The warning prompted several major retailers to stop selling hoverboards on their websites.

Hoverboards’ quick rise in popularity has left their regulation at the state and municipal level somewhat murky. One Maine city has already banned the use, possession, and storage of hoverboards in city buildings. Other municipalities are likely to consider regulating or limiting the use of hoverboards, especially as winter gives way to spring and hoverboard use increases. So, whether you’re a hoverboard user (or the parent of one) or a municipality, what do you need to know about the regulation of hoverboards?

Most hoverboards likely fall under existing laws that many states, including Maine, adopted fifteen years ago to regulate another once-trendy device, the Segway, as an “electric personal assistive mobility device.” In Maine, an “electric personal assistive mobility device” is defined as “a self-balancing, 2-nontandem-wheeled device, designed to transport only one person, with an electric propulsion system that limits the maximum speed of the device to 15 miles per hour or less.” Hoverboards, at least the two-wheeled variety, seem to fit under this definition. Many other states use similar definitions, and some authorities—including the New Jersey State Police and New York State Department of Motor Vehicles—have taken the position that hoverboards qualify as electric personal assistive mobility devices.

If hoverboards are “electric personal assistive mobility devices,” there are important consequences under Maine law. Maine municipalities, for instance, may prohibit or impose limits on hoverboards’ operation through the passage of health and safety ordinances. But if municipalities choose not to regulate hoverboards, the devices may be operated anywhere pedestrians are permitted to travel.

Next steps

Hoverboards may be a new device, but there are and will be tools under legal and regulatory frameworks to regulate them. Bernstein Shur regularly advises municipalities, businesses, institutions, and individuals on the legal implications of new technologies and devices. If you have any questions related to hoverboards, please contact Kevin Decker at kdecker@bernsteinshur.com or 207 228-7131.