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'Hoverboards' banned from NSW footpaths

By Wade O’Leary, Advocacy & Community Content Manager

This is not April Fools’ Day half a year late: hoverboards have officially been banned from NSW roads and footpaths.

But we’re not talking about the floating device from Back to the Future 2: the ‘hoverboards’ in question are self-balancing scooters – like Segways without handlebars – offering motorised propulsion in response to bodily movements.

They are on sale in shops and markets around the world and have featured on US late-night talk shows, but residents of NSW will only be allowed to ride theirs on private property.

The vehicles are also banned in the ACT, with the exception of tours around Lake Burley Griffin and other selected tourist attractions.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay warned Christmas shoppers to “keep safety front of mind” when considering the scooters as gifts.

“I don’t want to be the Christmas Grinch, but I want people to know and send a message that these new toys have real safety concerns,” he said.

“For starters, they are motorised and can travel at speeds up to 26km/h yet require no training to use them.

“They don’t have adequate brakes and don’t have lights or warning indicators, meaning they can’t interact safely with other road users like pedestrians. 

“What’s more, riders endanger themselves because they’re unprotected around other vehicles like cars and trucks.”

Mr Gay said the Centre for Road Safety was working with interstate counterparts on national laws and safety standards that would govern their use.

But any moves will meet resistance in Queensland, where self-balancing scooters are classified as personal mobility devices which can be used on footpaths, bike paths and shared paths.

The Sunshine State is also home to online retailers who sell the scooters, including OzziRippers.com.au.

“In Queensland, they view it as a pedestrian vehicle – so why don’t they in NSW?” a spokeswoman asked when contacted by the NRMA.

“Is it because it doesn’t have indicators? That’s ridiculous.

“Why do they have the power to decide whether you can have it for Christmas? It’s a toy, it’s never been seen as something to be used on a road.

“It comes down to the responsibility of the rider, just like for cyclists and pedestrians.”

The spokeswoman said her pre-teen son had mastered the vehicle, which she claimed has a top speed of little more than 10km/h, in two minutes – “you lean forward to go forward, backwards to go back, it’s not like it’s dangerous” – and was expecting their busiest week of trade as customers placed their orders in time for Christmas delivery.

She compared the product to Razor scooters with electric motors, which are currently on sale at major retailers including Target but are listed as prohibited vehicles by Roads and Maritime Services.

“It seems as if someone was bored and wanted to get a law in before the end of the year,” she said.

“People are buying these all over the world, we had trouble bringing it into the country initially and now this – the rest of the world can enjoy this but Australians can’t.

“This is where the future is taking us: if you can ride it between your bus or train and the office to save time, why not?”

A significant reason NSW residents wouldn’t ride the scooters in public areas is the fines: $319 if used on footpaths and $637 if on roads.

This will be of particular interest to Sydney man Kane Vato, who told the Huffington Post he was fined $637 for riding his scooter on a footpath in Surry Hills earlier this year after initially being threatened with a $2100 penalty for driving an uninsured and unlicensed vehicle.

Public use of self-balancing scooters is also banned in Victoria and Western Australia and the local situation is similar to that in the United Kingdom – where the Crown Prosecution Service passed a law last month restricting their use to private property – and Canada, where provinces regulate motorised vehicles and public use of so-called hoverboards is banned everywhere except Ontario.

Self-balancing scooters are sold and used publicly throughout Asia, the United States and Mexico with little regulation and their use is widespread in Europe but under widely varying regulatory regimes, including the Swiss system where they are allowed only on roads with licence plates and indicators affixed.

The system most similar to Queensland's regime can be found in New Zealand, where self-balancing scooters are classified as mobility devices that can be used on footpaths and crossings, although priority must be given to pedestrians.

UPDATE: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a warning about hoverboards after overseas reports of the devices igniting while being recharged.

The ACCC warns that consumers should only purchase hoverboards that have the Australian Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM), which is a tick surrounded by a triangle.

Devices not marked could be running on batteries that are incompatible with local electricity networks and therefore be vulnerable to ignition.

Do you think ‘hoverboards’ should be banned from footpaths and roads? Let us know your thoughts below.

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