It is the holiday gift that makes people stop and stare. It is viewed as a nuisance, or worse, a safety hazard. And it is banned in New York City.
It is commonly known as a hoverboard, a two-wheeled motorized device that requires ample balance and, perhaps, a fire extinguisher: It has been known to catch fire. Nonetheless, some local officials are pushing to make the device legal in a bustling city that is known for packed sidewalks and congested streets.
In recent weeks, State Senator Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, has led the call to allow hoverboards, even nervously — and slowly — riding one himself on a morning show. On Tuesday, he held a news conference at City Hall to highlight a problem some young people now find themselves with: being the proud owner of a new hoverboard, but having nowhere to ride it without getting in trouble.
The New York Police Department says the devices are prohibited in the city under state law. Mr. Peralta wants to amend the law and let cities create their own rules. In New York City, riders could be required to wear a helmet and kneepads or to stay in parks.
“We need to regulate these hoverboards so people can ride them in a safe manner,” said Mr. Peralta, who introduced a bill to change how the devices are regulated to make them legal in the city. Mr. Peralta was joined by Assemblyman David I. Weprin, also a Queens Democrat, who is introducing a similar bill.
On Tuesday, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton ridiculed the gadgets. “To be quite frank with you, I think anybody who rides these things is out of their minds,” he told reporters at an unrelated event.
Since hoverboards started to appear in the city, police officers have issued summonses to some offenders caught using them. Mr. Bratton said the devices were inappropriate for the city.
“We live in an extraordinarily crowded city; you have a hard enough time walking down the streets, let alone hovering,” Mr. Bratton said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, took a more conciliatory tone. “We want to make sure if they are used in the city on any broader scale, that it’s done safely,” he said.
The devices, which can cost more than $400, have become one of the most talked-about gifts this year, even if they do not actually hover above the ground as envisioned in “Back to the Future, Part II.” They have inspired YouTube videos capturing riders wiping out, and a “Saturday Night Live” skit showing the boards’ catching fire in people’s homes.
In response to safety concerns, some airlines have banned the devices, and Amazon has removed some models from its website. Federal transportation officials have said the device’s lithium battery can generate heat or fire if manufacturers and shippers do not follow safety precautions. Outside City Hall, Mr. Peralta said he wanted to pressure sellers to remove cheap fire-prone models from the market and raise awareness about the “knockoff imitations.”
Councilman Andy King, a Bronx Democrat, said he planned to introduce a resolution in the City Council in support of Mr. Peralta’s bill, noting that hoverboards were popular among young black and Hispanic men.
“The last thing we want to see is a whole bunch of summonses going to that population because someone gave them a gift during the holiday season,” Mr. King said at the news conference.
Tyree Brown, 29, of the Bronx, said he was recently stopped by a police officer for riding a similar device, called an electric unicycle, on a sidewalk in Manhattan. He is going to fight the $138 fine, he said, and will continue to ride the device around the city.
“It’s not a harm to anybody. I’m just getting from Point A to Point B,” said Mr. Brown, who attended the news conference with a few other riders.
Doaine Thompson, 32, showed off his $450 white hoverboard that blared an Adele song from speakers within the device. He said he sold about 10 of the gadgets each day from his barbershop in the Bronx.
Despite prodding from videographers, none of the riders decided to risk summonses and take the gadgets for a spin in front of City Hall. But Mr. Peralta had advice for would-be riders after his televised jaunt: If you think you are going to fall off, you probably will.
“You have to really learn to be serene,” he said.
A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misidentified the device being demonstrated by Doaine Thompson, 32. While, like the hoverboard, the use of the device shown is banned in New York City, it is an electric unicycle, not a hoverboard.