By Siri Bulusu
In response to mounting evidence of hoverboards spontaneously exploding and injuring customers, Amazon.com Inc. offered Wednesday to pay full refunds for all hoverboards purchased through its site.
Amazon’s announcement comes on the heels of a statement issued by Elliot Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who urged anyone with a hoverboard to “have a working fire extinguisher nearby.”
Any time there are this number of fires and dozens of falls and collisions, that is a real concern,” said Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the CPSC. “This is why we decided to investigate.”
The CPSC is currently investigating 40 incidents in 19 states of hoverboards catching on fire.
“We’re looking for the root cause of the fires,” Davis said noting special attention to the lithium-ion battery and its interaction with the circuit boards inside the device.
The CPSC chairman lauded Amazon for “taking action” and called for other large-volume online retailers to follow suit.
“We commend Amazon for voluntarily stepping up,” Davis said. “They are putting customer safety first and that’s a good thing.”
Amazon first took steps to protect consumers from hoverboards in December when it pulled all but two brands of hoverboards from the virtual store, according to a spokesperson at Swagway USA, a hoverboard manufacturer.
Hoverboards, which are also referred to as self-balancing boards, rose to popularity when young celebrities like Wiz Khalifa and Kendall Jenner posted photos of the product on social media. Many speculated it would soar during the holiday season but sales slowed when videos of the hoverboards on fire began surfacing on YouTube.
A spokesperson for Swagway said that the company counted 250,000 minutes of customer service calls during the month of November and guesses that number quadrupled in December.
Injuries caused by hoverboards are not limited to spontaneous explosions. Elliot Volkman, a contributing staff writer at Tech.co, said the 20-pound device can “take someone’s legs out when you’re really going.”
“When you’re going 10 miles per hour and it flies out in front of you, it’s not a good experience,” Volkman said in an interview. “More people around you are likely to get hurt than you are.”
Hoverboards were not designed to sense the weight of the user and can therefore lurch at unanticipated speeds and destabilize the rider, sometimes resulting in serious injuries and hospital visits, according to Davis.
“We have to look deeper into the design to see if there is a hidden hazard,” Davis said.
The CPSC does not have the authority to pre-approve products before they come to market but it is in the process of creating standards for hoverboards in addition to the standards for lithium-ion batteries and chargers that already exist.
A Swagway spokesperson said that hoverboards are the new generation’s skateboards or roller skates and just as when those came out, people might take a spill.
“Just like with bikes, you may fall off,” Davis said. “But it doesn’t surprise you.”