Hoverboards pose a risk

If a young person on your Christmas shopping list wants a hoverboard, ignore the pleas and find a safer alternative, said Dr. Lilian Liao, director of pediatric trauma and burns at University Hospital.

Retailers are increasingly pulling the item off their shelves for safety concerns, including reports of fires, explosions and trips to the emergency room. Lithium-ion batteries that power the devices appear to be the source of the fires. Airlines have banned the devices, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating them.

The term hoverboard is misleading; these devices don’t float above the ground — like in the movie Back to the Future. They consist of a platform supported by two wheels, with an electronic motor and gyroscope that keeps the platform balanced.

Although University Hospital’s pediatric trauma center and burn program hasn’t treated any hoverboard injuries yet, it’s just a matter of time, Dr. Liao said. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that broken bones, sprains and other injuries have been reported from riders.

“At least 11 fires and nearly 30 emergency room visits across the country have been linked to hoverboards, which have grown hugely popular in just a short period of time,” said Dr. Liao, associate professor of surgery at the UT Health Science Center. “While electrical fires can cause serious burns, these devices are inherently dangerous — moving quickly over sidewalks and pavement, and posing a very real risk of hard falls.”

Consumer Reports recently tested the devices and found it extremely easy to lose control on them. Even a pebble or slight dip can cause the rider to shift weight, causing the device to turn sharply. And because the rider has to lean forward to move, they can tumble face-first in a mishap.

At the very least, riders should wear a helmet, knee and elbow pads when using hoverboards. And because many — but not all — of the fires have been linked to recharging the batteries, they should be monitored when charging. Consumer Reports recommends they not be charged overnight when people sleep, or when away from home. They also note, however, that several fires have occurred while people are riding them.