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Australian Roads Minister's stern reminder: Hoverboards are banned

Marty McFly made them cool and Justin Bieber has even ridden one, but a politician in Australia has played the "Christmas Grinch" warning against buying hoverboards, which are banned on local roads.

Hoverboards, or balance boards as they're also known, are raising safety concerns.
Richard Levine/Corbis

If there's one thing that toy-crazed children love hearing in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it's that the present they've been coveting has been banned and won't be appearing under the tree this year.

But that's the future that kids in Australia are facing after a local politician issued a sternly worded statement banning electric hoverboards, warning that they are unsafe and illegal to ride on public roads.

One month out from the festive season, New South Wales Minister for Roads Duncan Gay admitted to being a "Christmas Grinch" but cautioned that parents should keep safety in mind when considering buy the battery-powered toys.

Not quite the futuristic, Biff-evading hoverboards of "Back to the Future II," the Minister wants to crack down on self-balancing two-wheeled electric scooters which work like a mini Segway without the handles. By stepping on the board, riders can adjust the turn and direction of the scooter thanks to gyroscopic sensors under their feet.

But according to Gay, it's all fun and games until a kid falls off.

"Hoverboards are the hot ticket item on many Christmas wishlists, but we need shoppers to keep safety front of mind before they put their money down," he said. "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."

While they can reach speeds of up to 26 kilometres [16 miles] per hour, Gay said the motorised boards "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." And while Marty McFly never got a guide on how to use his Mattel-branded Hoverboard, Gay says the lack of training for the new toy is a problem.

"What's more, riders endanger themselves because they're unprotected around other vehicles like cars and trucks."

Self-balancing boards are illegal to use on public streets and footpaths in the UK and Germany, though California has passed laws to regulate the devices. CNET's very own staff have even had a chance to take a board for a spin. But while Australia's roads minister might be considered a spoilsport, he does have a point. If a skilled dancer and performer like Justin Bieber can't ride a hoverboard without falling off, what chance do Australia's children have?

To kick the Christmas cheer up a notch, the Minister warned that people found using a hoverboard on the road face a AU$637 fine ($463), or AU$319 ($232) for using it on a footpath.

But if one of the toys does happen to appear under the tree this year, never fear. Minister Gay said the State's Centre for Road Safety was currently working on national laws and safety standards for hoverboards.

So just tell that eager 12-year-old that they can wait until the correct regulatory framework is in place before they unwrap their present and start carving up the streets.