Gadgets

Riding hoverboards in public is illegal in the UK

Like Segways, self-balancing scooters are not allowed on roads or paved walkways, Britain's public prosecution office has decreed.

A self-balancing scooter was on display at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. Josh Miller/CNET

What do pop singer Lily Allen and the son of football star David Beckham have in common? They've both been seen riding "hoverboards" in the street, which has now been stamped illegal in the UK.

Guidance for the use of the hoverboards, also known as self-balancing scooters, on roads and paved walkways has been published by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service. The update from the public prosecution office was highlighted in a tweet Sunday by London's police. In short, it is illegal to ride the boards in public. They may only be used on private property with the landowner's permission.

Several hoverboard-like devices, including the Solowheel Hovertrax and MonoRover R2, have gone on sale this year. The devices function similarly to a Segway, requiring only a little balancing skill to operate, but they lack the vertical post. They are just two wheels with a platform between them.

Thanks to high-profile celebrity endorsements and other publicity, they'll doubtless be on more than a few wish lists come December. Besides Allen and Brooklyn Beckham, hoverboards have found other famous fans such as Justin Bieber and Wiz Khalifa (who was restrained by police in the LA airport in August for allegedly refusing to dismount his hoverboard inside the terminal).

Self-balancing scooters are just the latest consumer gadgets to fall afoul of the law. Mainstream adoption of new technologies has long sparked debates over legal and public use, such as mobile phones in cars. More recently, amateur drone use in the UK and the US has been contentious, with both countries issuing guidelines to prevent accidents.

For hoverboards, however, no new legislation was required in the UK. It turns out that the same restrictions that govern the older, gawkier Segways also govern the self-balancing boards. All vehicles driven on public roads in the UK must be licensed and registered, according to the prosecution office's guidelines. Self-balancing boards don't currently meet the requirements to be found roadworthy.

Riding wheeled transportation on paved walkways, including vehicles legal on roads such as bikes, is already illegal in the UK.

The guidelines leave the list of places you may legally ride a self-balancing scooter looking distinctly short and unimpressive. As the code stipulates, "You can only ride an unregistered self-balancing scooter on land which is private property and with the landowner's permission." That means unless you own a large plot of land, your options are limited.