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December 8 2015

NYC Government Is Hovering over the Season's Hottest Christmas Gift

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

The teens in your house may be bugging you to get them a Hoverboard for Christmas, but this season’s hottest gift is off limits on the roads and sidewalks if you live in the Big Apple.

Hoverboards are motorized self-balancing scooters. Think the Segway without the handlebars. A vision-come-true of how people would get around in 2015 from the 1980s movie “Back to the Future II,” these gadgets recently became popular among musicians and sports players, but have now filtered to the mass market.

At a cost of $200 to $2,000, these gadgets are considered electronic personal assistance devices, but not to the city’s law enforcement or  New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles as CNNMoney reports:

"They are not considered motor vehicles so they cannot be registered," a DMV spokeswoman told CNNMoney. "According to state law, a first violation shall result in no fine. A second or subsequent violation shall result in a civil fine not to exceed $50."

A debate about their legality kicked off on Wednesday after the 26th Police Precinct in Harlem deleted a tweet that said "the electric #hoverboard is illegal." This led to a lot of confusion.

The NYPD confirmed to CNNMoney that it considered them illegal in the city.

Yet, even the city is confused about which category of regulation Hoverboards fall under, according to the New York Daily News:

The NYPD’s 26th precinct, which covers Morningside Heights and parts of West Harlem, tweeted out Monday that electric hoverboards are illegal according to NYC Admin.

The tweet read:

“Be advised that the electric #hoverboard is illegal as per Admin. Code 19-176.2.”

The tweet was deleted because it contained the wrong code. Code 19-176.2 made hoverboards arguably legal since it includes two key descriptions that prove hoverboards actually follow the law:

  • · For purposes of this section, the term 'motorized scooter' shall mean any wheeled device that has handlebars..."
  • · "For the purposes of of this section, the term 'motorized scooter' shall not include electric powered devices not capable of exceeding fifteen miles per hour..."

Based on those descriptions it can be argued that since hoverboards do not have any handlebars and they don’t exceed 15mph — some can’t even reach 8mph — hoverboards, by definition, are actually quite legal. 

Some argued that this is yet another nanny state rule to stifle innovation.

It seems government only permits what it knows how to register and regulate. Technology develops new products at lightning speed, but government moves at a sloth’s pace. Rather than understand new technology to assess how it works and the benefits, they would rather ban it entirely. Unfortunately, this is the same argument we see with ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft or room sharing companies like Airbnb and FlipKey.

Innovation drives progress, but the government is the champion of the status quo.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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