Goodbye hoverboards you weird, dangerous beasts

16 Dec 2015

Argos in Ireland, Amazon in the UK, it seems everybody is against hoverboards. Has the most hyped gadget of 2015 fallen at the first hurdle? Thankfully, it seems, yes.

Hoverboards (or self-balancing scooters, to be specific) are little devices you stand on and they whizz you around town, with your hands free and your fellow commuters confused. They look absolutely incredible the first time you see them.

Well, it turns out they might go on fire the first time you charge them, too. For security concerns – the same ones that saw 1,400 devices stopped from entering the country at Irish customs recently – Argos has withdrawn the products from Irish shelves.

Citing “concerns made by trading standards”, the company wants to test the Nevaboard (which it sells exclusively over here) a bit more and, until that’s done, they’re off the shelf.

A time for action

Fergal O’Leary, communications director of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Ireland, spoke earlier of how retailers who do sell the devices could face action.

The commission said it has found issues with non-compliant plugs and fuses, issues with cables, chargers and battery packs.

“We are doing whatever we can to stop at the point of entry, in the ports, these products coming on the market, or indeed, we’re stopping retailers from selling them,” he said on RTÉ Radio One.

The onus is on retailers to ensure the products they sell are safe, he said, noting that consumers should check for a CE mark on purchases to ensure they meet safety standards.

The legality of the self-balancing scooter is still very restrictive as, according to the Gardaí, it follows the same restrictions as a motor vehicle, with it not being allowed on Irish roads or footpaths and, even in public places, you must have a driver’s licence and insurance to use it.

An Anglo-Irish concern

Across the water in the UK, a similar problem has sprung up. A UK retail ombudsman has been doing the rounds on TV and radio today advising businesses to stop selling the devices after it was discovered that non-compliant plugs were used to charge some of them, too.

This can, theoretically, lead to overheating or fire if worst case scenarios occur and, when checking for safety, these scenarios tend to crop up.

Amazon, one of the major sellers of these devices, has emailed customers who bought hoverboards with the non-compliant UK plugs, and even those with standard plugs.

For the former, the online retailer has taken the extraordinary step of telling customers to bin the hoverboards as soon as possible, “at a WEEE certified location”, with full refund details included in the emails.

Spread the word

“If you purchased this product as a gift for someone, please notify the recipient and provide them with this information,” it reads, with the email sent to purchasers of hoverboards with compliant plugs pointing them in the way of safety information to be aware of.

It all makes for an extraordinary scramble from all sides. These devices are not cheap, coming in around €350 over here, with the cheapest available in the UK around £200.

This means that there is a decent chance that many of those who purchased one did so as a Christmas present, a major Christmas present at that.

Finding out now that it’s faulty and, fairly likely dangerous, throws a spanner in the works for consumers. It’s a nightmare for retailers, too, with this likely to rumble on a fair bit longer (even though today’s developments seem particularly extraordinary).

But, if it means less potentially dangerous devices are charging in Irish or UK homes tonight, then that can only be a good thing.

Hoverboard image via Ben Larcey on Flickr

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic