Are Hoverboards Legal In New York?

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With the holiday season approaching, my 10-year old son Zachary asked for a special present … a Hoverboard, one of the hottest toys of the season!  Forget that it costs from $200 to $2,000 and forget that, at least one faulty-manufactured one, caused  a tragic fire, these things are illegal in parts of the State!

Also, known as a mini-Segway, Swagway or electric scooter, Hoverboards are motorized self-balancing scooters that can accelerate up to 12 mph.  As more people ride them, however, police officers and municipalities have to figure out the laws that govern them.

My summary opinion:  Outside of New York City, in most places, Hoverboards are legal to operate on streets and sidewalks but, in New York City, they are not.  Below is my analysis.

New York State (Except New York City)

Pursuant to the Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”), these gadgets are considered “electric personal assistive mobility devices” (EPAMDs).   Specifically, VTL § 114-d defines “electric personal assistive mobility devices” as follows:

“Every self-balance, two non-tandem wheeled device designed to transport one person by means of an electric propulsion system with an average output of not more than 750 watts (one horsepower), and the maximum speed of which on a paved level surface, when propoelled solely by its electric propelled solely by its electric propulsion system while ridden by an operator weighting 170 pound, is less than 12 1/2 miles per hour.”   Most Hoverboards fall within this definition.

As such, an EPAMD is not considered a “motor vehicle” and therefore does not have to be registered.  VLT § 1272 governs the rules for “electric personal assistive mobility devices.”  As you can at the end of this post, there are various restrictions but nothing surprising or onerous.  The two most salient rules are that operators must be 16-years or older (sorry Zachary), and shall not travel more than 8 mph.  As long as EPAMDs have not been outlaws in the municipality (which in most they are not), you can ride one.

Further, pursuant to VTL  § 1225-a, “no person shall drive a motor vehicle on or across a sidewalk”.  Because, as discussed below, Hoverboards are not considered “motor vehicles”, they may be operated in New York State on the sidewalk (as long as you are not in New York City).

So, if none of these restrictions are violated and you are outside the 5 boroughs, you can operate one of these gadgets legally on a street or sidewalk.  Of course, I would expect the Legislature to eventually catch up with technology and prohibit or restrict Hoverboards state-wide in the future.

In New York City

In New York City, other laws apply.  In fact, according to the New York City Police Department, they are illegal and I agree.   In November 2015, the NYPD declared them illegal saying they were technically “motor vehicles that cannot be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

Under VTL § 125, a “motor vehicle” is defined as any “vehicle operated or driven upon a public highway which is propelled by any power other than muscular power”.  There is one exception (actually there are others but they plainly do not apply to Hoverboards) for “electric personal assistive mobility devices” (EPAMDs).  However, while a Hoverboard falls within the definition of EPAMD (see above),  this exception in Section 125 only applies outside a city with a population of one million or more (which is New York legalese for New York City).  Bottom line: in New York City, Hoverboards are “motor vehicles” while outside the City they are not.  Because they are “motor vehicles” in New York City, you cannot legally operate one on any City street.

Similarly, a Hoverboard may not be operated on a New York City sidewalk.  These devices are considered  “vehicles” as that word is defined in NYC Traffic Regulation § 401(b) (any “device in, upon, or by which any person *** is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway), and NYC Traffic Regulation § 4-07(c)(1) explicitly prohibits driving vehicles on sidewalks.  Therefore, you cannot operate them on a sidewalk in New York City either.

NOTE:  The operation of motor scooters in New York City is regulated by NYC Admin. Code 19-176.2.  However, “motor scooters” are defined in a way to exclude Hoverboards.

If a client of mine was ticketed for “illegally” operating a Hoverboard on a NYC street or sidewalk, I would look up the section of law and read the statute or regulation to ensure that it was, in fact, violated.  I can imagine that some police officers will inadvertently write the wrong charge.  And, if so, I would recommend that the client fight the ticket.

In addition to its possible illegality, wherever you operate your Hoverboard, we recommend that you do not buy a cheap one (some knockoff ones have caused fires and explosions).  Make sure that it is UL-approved.  And always wear a helmet, and wrist and elbow guards when riding.

 

Vehicle And Traffic Law § 1272 Restrictions

For those operating a Hoverboard outside of New YorK City, below are the restrictions and rules.

1. No electric personal assistive mobility device shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which such device is designed and equipped.  No person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device shall carry any person as a passenger in a pack fastened to the operator or fastened to such device.

2. No person shall operate an electric personal assistive mobility device outside during the period of time between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise unless such person is wearing readily visible reflective clothing or material which is of a light or bright color.

3. No person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bars or which obstructs his or her vision in any direction.

4. Every person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device shall yield the right of way to pedestrians and motor vehicles.

5. Every operator of an electric personal assistive mobility device shall be sixteen years of age or older.

6. No person shall operate an electric personal assistive mobility device in a state park or historic site.

7. If the governing body of any county not wholly included within a city, city with a population of less than one million, town or village shall authorize the use of electric personal assistive mobility devices upon any sidewalk, such authorization shall not permit the operation thereof at a speed in excess of eight miles per hour.

While riding a Hoverboard in an authorized area, Vehicle And Traffic Law § 1272 restricts operators  from overtaking “a pedestrian on a sidewalk unless there is adequate space for the personal assistive mobility device to pass around the pedestrian and warning is given to such pedestrian through the audible device defined in subdivision two of section twelve hundred seventy-five of this article.

A first violation of  VTL § 1272 does not result in a fine. A second or subsequent violation, however, results in a civil fine of up to $50.00.  Because Hoverboard are not considered “motor vehicles” outside of New York City, a non-New York City ticket issued for violating § 1272 does not carry points or affect your NYS driver’s license.

 

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  • You should however note that these “hoverboards” are legal within the 5 boroughs as long as you are in a registered NYC Park.

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