Self-balancing Scooters, or hoverboards as they have been called virally (though no one really knows why…), are having a tough ride when it comes to the laws of the land, no pun intended. First, there was the infamous airport incident involving hip hop artist Wiz Khalifa over the Summer, and now, thanks to British parliament, the scooters are banned on all public roads and walkways throughout Britain. According to a guidance put together by the Crown Prosecution Service, the self-balancing scooters (think Segways without handles) are “too unsafe to ride on the road, but also too dangerous to ride on the pavement [sidewalks and other pedestrian walkways].” While still legal to use on one’s private property – that is with the property owner’s permission – this is a direct afront to manufacturers like Oxboard EU and their ambitions for the device.
Strangely enough, the ordinance that the guidance references regarding the legality of the scooters was drafted way back in 1835 (The Highway Act) as they are considered to be “powered vehicles”. I don’t know why, but something tells me that the legislators of the era were not as forward thinking to have suspected an eventual self-balancing personal propulsion device like the Oxboard scooter when they made this law.
In a way, the story mirrors the current legal grey-ness of ride-sharing app, Uber. It too has come into hot water as policy is being pushed into a reactive position due to technology. Sadly in such cases, policy tends to take reductive stances in terms of new technologies and the way people use them. Uber has, for instance, been banned in Nevada, much of India, Australia, and European states like Netherlands and Germany. All of this for offering a better priced, more convenient alternative to traditional taxi services.
This is not to say that the self-balancing scooter is an essential piece of technology. No in many ways it is most certainly a fad – one in which I am sure we will see fade into obscurity like it’s older cousin the Segway. Really, if it hadn’t been for a bunch of celebrities Snapping and Instagramming pics of themselves with these scooters, they would likely have little attention due to their somewhat ridiculous, and lets face it, impractical uses. That said, it is sad to see such a strange fixation with stopping people from enjoying what seems to be a relatively innocuous piece of technology.
I am curious to see what other jurisdictions are going to do with these scooters. Will they follow Britain’s lead and ban them outright? Or will we see other states and governments accept technology with more open arms? History, if anything, shows that policy and technology do not make the most accommodating of bedfellows, but who knows, maybe some other fad will interrupt the scooter’s rise in popularity and legislators can focus on that instead.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar