By James Brooks.
“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” That’s what residents are singing in Great Britain this Christmas after the government interpreted the Highway Act of 1835 to ban the hoverboard (also known as the self-balancing scooter) from streets and sidewalks. In London, Mayor Boris Johnson is seeking an exemption, characterizing the law as a “ludicrous and nannying prohibition on the electric scooter-surfboard gizmos.”
And it’s not just London in this fight. On this side of the pond, what may prove to be the hottest item of the holiday shopping season may also prove to be illegal in some locales across the United States.
New York and California are the early adopters in terms of state or local actions for or against hoverboards. A new law in California will, after January 1, 2016, treat the motorized two-wheeled devices more like skateboards and bicycles than like the larger handlebar Segway or the motorized scooter. Riders will need to gear-up with personal protection such as a helmet and obey traffic laws just like bicycles. Private land and pedestrian-only zones will remain closed to the devices.
In New York State and New York City the current legal climate is imprecise but bending toward illegality. Because the state legislative language is unclear about applications to devices such as hoverboards, New York City has chosen to adhere to an outright ban. Although enforcement may be nearly impossible, those that do tangle with the NYPD can expect a hefty fine.
Across the country, especially in southern and warmer climate states, the response to the new toy de jeur is mixed. Back in September, a Harris County Texas Sherriff Deputy found himself the subject of a viral YouTube video of his arrest of a youth riding a hoverboard in a local shopping mall.
Over in Tempe, Arizona, the campus of Arizona State University is treating the hoverboard like a skateboard. Neither are allowed in “walk only” zones. If the state legislature is going to act, they will need to wait until after January 1, 2016 when they return to session.
The technical specifications of the hoverboard seem to be at the center of the debate. Many of the boards have a top speed of up to 6 or 7 miles per hour (MPH). However, the higher-end models have a top speed closer to 12-15 MPH. Accidents impacting the rider or another pedestrian can be serious. Worst case scenarios involve large adult riders hitting an infant stroller or plate glass window.
City officials who do not relish the role of Scrooge or any other infamous Christmas villain will need to anticipate how this very popular device fits into the mobility plans in their respective community. Unfortunately, governing does not get a holiday break.
James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.