Why Are 'Death Trap' Hoverboards Exploding?

Hoverboards have been tipped as one of this year's must-have Christmas presents - but now customers are being advised to avoid them at all costs.

Sky News looks at why the self-balancing scooters are causing so much concern.

:: What Are Hoverboards?

The gadgets, also known as "personal motorised transporters", are two-wheeled electrical scooters.

Despite their name, they don't actually hover and are controlled by subtle shifts in the user's weight.

Joann Ensell

They come in all shapes and sizes and usually cost between around £200 and £700.

The boards have enjoyed an explosion in popularity recently, with Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and Kylie Jenner just some of the celebrities snapped on them.

It is thought around half a million people in Britain have bought the self-balancing boards as gifts.

:: What Are The Dangers?

Some models have been catching fire and blowing up, which is believed to be down to many having non-compliant UK plugs without fuses.

This increases the risk of the device overheating, exploding or catching fire. Some hoverboards' cut-off switches failed.

Chargers, cabling and batteries were also found to fail safety standards.

Carol Helen Garrett, National Trading Standards principal officer, said: "The main hazard is in the board itself.

"The cut-off switch which should activate when the lithium battery is fully charged often doesn't work.

"That means that the battery continues to charge, it overheats and there's a significant risk of an explosion or fire, which is going to have devastating consequences and we have seen that in recent reports."

Sky News spoke to Joann Ensell, who bought a hoverboard for her 10-year-old Henry. However, a week later it exploded in front of her and her son.

She was left with severe burns to her hand and arm. She described the boards as "a potential death trap".

London Fire Brigade (LFB) said it had seen at least three incidents of boards catching fire.

In one incident, a board caught fire and two people had to jump from their first-floor bedroom window to save themselves, the LFB said.

Besides fire, there are also other dangers associated with the gadget.

Burnt out hoverboard

Last week, a 15-year-old boy riding a hoverboard was killed after colliding with a bus in Alperton, west London.

Various airlines have also banned the gadgets, citing potential fire danger from the popular devices' lithium-ion batteries.

:: Are They All Dangerous?

Not all are, but many have issues. National Trading Standards said it had seized 15,000 of the 17,000 hoverboards examined since 15 October.

Many were found to have non-compliant plugs without fuses and cut-off switches which failed.

Retail Ombudsman Dean Dunham told Sky News: "We don't know which ones are dangerous and which are not."

LFB spokesman David Robinson also advised against getting one until more is known about what is causing the issues.

:: Who Has Stopped Selling Them?

Amazon has been telling customers who bought one that has a "non-compliant UK plug" to throw them away "as soon as possible" and get a refund.

"We regret the inconvenience this may cause you but trust you will understand that your safety and satisfaction is our highest priority," the retailer said in an email to customers.

It has suspended sales of the gadget.

Other major retailers including John Lewis, Argos and Tesco have stopped selling them.

The Retail Ombudsman told Sky News "retailers must stop selling them" as they are "too dangerous".

"Unless retailers are certain the hoverboards they are selling are not dangerous, they must pull them from the shelves," he said.

:: Are They Legal?

Hoverboards Generic

The Crown Prosecution Service has said it is not legal to use them in public.

The Metropolitan Police has also been warning that a 180-year-old law means they can only be used on private land.

Although they are powered vehicles, hoverboards are regarded as unsafe on British roads, and cannot be licensed or registered under the Highway Act 1835.

But in England, Wales and Scotland, it is also an offence to take it for a spin on the pavement. 

Guidance from the Department for Transport says: "You can only ride an unregistered self-balancing scooter on land which is private property, and with the landowner's permission."

:: What To Do If You're Worried

Contact the retailer you bought it from if you have any concerns about your device. Ask for a refund if you are worried it could be faulty.

If you decide to keep yours, the following advice has been given:

:: Never leave the device charging unattended, especially overnight. A faulty cut-off switch or plug without a fuse could lead to it overheating, exploding or catching fire.

:: Check the shape of the plug. The first unsafe boards identified often had a clover-shaped plug.

:: Check for online reviews that seem genuine and for information about the company's head office and landline number.

Sites that have spelling or grammar mistakes can be an indication that it is not a professional operation.

:: Never be dazzled by a bargain. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

:: Report any concerns to Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06.

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