Laws Struggle to Keep Up as Hoverboards’ Popularity Soars


MILL VALLEY, Calif. — They are this year’s must-have holiday item, coveted by children and adults alike. Retailers are promoting them heavily online and on catalog covers, and they are an increasingly common sight on city streets across America. But in many places — from New York State to individual schools, malls and stores — they are illegal.

Self-balancing motorized boards have many names: hoverboards, Swagways, self-balancing scooters and, among the Star Trek crowd, personal transporters. But whatever they are called, they now have parents, lawmakers and others struggling to figure out how safe they are and how to regulate them, because in most places the rules have not caught up with the new technology.

Some property owners have banned them for liability reasons, as it is easy to see how a rider could trip on a bump or unexpected curb. And although they have taken the Upper East Side and other parts of New York City by storm, the state classifies them as motorized vehicles that cannot be registered, so riding them in public can incur a steep fine.

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Electric skateboard riders gather once a week with their Boosted Boards and ride around in San Francisco.

Credit
Jason Henry for The New York Times

In California, by contrast, lawmakers have tried to get ahead of the problem: A new law effective Jan. 1 will allow electric-powered boards to be ridden in bike lanes and pathways, ideally to help commuters break free from cars and bicycle traffic.

“What we had in mind was the short-distance commuter,” said Kristin Olsen, the California assembly member who sponsored the measure, adding that the law can be amended by municipalities and private property owners who want to restrict use of hoverboards.

“Riding one of these in Santa Monica is going to be different than in Modesto,” she said.

But the biggest beneficiaries of the new law are likely to be people like Madison Hirsch, a 14-year-old sophomore at Tamalpais High School here. She saw a friend riding a hoverboard over the summer and wanted one desperately, but her parents refused to buy her a $750 one she coveted from Future Foot. So she used money saved from birthdays and Hanukkah to buy one, and since September she has been riding it around town and at her school. One woman scolded her for riding it at the mall, demanding she get off and walk.

“I didn’t,” Madison said. “I can ride faster than she can chase me.”

This month, the police department at the University of California, Los Angeles, said hoverboards would not be allowed on walkways and in hallways after pedestrians complained about collisions. In London, the authorities recently reminded residents that the boards are banned from public streets and roadways because they are dangerous.

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Tre Watson riding his hoverboard on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Calif.

Credit
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

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