Onewheel motor shutoff issue prompts federal recall recommendation, citing deaths including that of a helmet-wearing rider in Gypsum
The Onewheel electric mobility device has a motor shutdown issue that has prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to pursue a recall on the devices.
It’s a major a setback for the company’s efforts to mount a defense in several wrongful death cases, including that of a Gypsum man who died from a November 2021 Onewheel shut-off crash in which he was wearing a helmet when the device nosedived, ejecting him onto the pavement.
That and other incidents prompted an investigation from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which announced last week that it feels users should stop using the devices and the company should issue a voluntary recall.
The company refused to comply, saying “We strongly disagree with the CPSC’s unjustified and alarmist claims, and we see no reason for riders to stop using their boards.”
The problem centers around an engine shutdown issue on the Onewheel device, which the company says users should be able to know is coming using their sense of feel, but which many users did not feel enough to avoid serious injury.
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To propel oneself forward on the Onewheel, a rider must lean forward against the machine’s own self-balancing motor. If that motor is overworked, it can give out, but it will warn the user of this first by pushing back against them, which also can serve to put them at an angle less likely to result in a nosedive when the motor shuts off. But users who don’t have their sense of feel attuned to this warning often respond by unwittingly leaning forward more, making a sudden nosedive and ejection inevitable when the motor does shut off.
For years, those affected by the motor shutdown issue have suggested the company evoke other senses than that of mere feel in warning users that the engine is about to shut down, like a loud car alarm sound or a blinking light on the device. But the company has not taken such measures despite feedback from users.
Last week, the commission announced that the self-balancing shutdown and subsequent user ejection has proven itself deadly enough to issue a warning to all users of the device, saying numerous deaths have occurred because the device “suddenly stopped while in motion.”
The sudden stopping described by the commission has been much more of an issue for novice riders than advanced riders, who have learned to feel the device’s self-balancing motor pushing back against them, telling them it’s about to shut off.
Those advanced riders responded to the commission en masse, sending a Onewheel rider to deliver 4,000 letters to the CPSC office in Washington, D.C. on Monday. Among the defense of the Onewheel riders is that their device is a “board” to be considered inherently risky alongside other dangerous board sports like snowboarding.
“All board and recrecational (sic) sports carry inherent risk of crashes and injury, such as ‘going over the bars’ on a mountain bike or ‘catching an edge’ on a snowboard,” Onewheel said in a response issued via KARV Communications on prnewswire.com.
But those affected by crashes point out that the motor of the Onewheel has created an artificial, forward-leaning balance point for the rider, and the device’s efforts to push back weren’t noticeable enough to serve as a proper warning when this motorized balance point was going to give out. Leaning forward unnaturally when the motor gives out has led to devastating crashes for many riders.
The Bailey Cowan Heckaman law firm in Texas is currently representing more than 100 such cases, including that of the Gypsum man who was killed in 2021. Even with his helmet, the local man’s head injuries from the crash were serious enough to result in his death.
“We were very disappointed to see that Future Motion failed to take seriously the CPSC’s attempt to protect Onewheel riders and improve the boards’ safety,” Bailey Cowan Heckaman said in a statement. “Instead, the company hired a PR firm and doubled down on claims about its product’s safety. Sadly, this is another example of a company that puts profits over people.”
The firm has been pursuing its case for years, independent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s investigation. But their findings have been similar.
“Since just 2019, these dangerous devices have tragically left at least 5 families with deceased loved ones, have rendered at least one rider completely paralyzed, and have left scores of others with life-altering injuries requiring surgery and rehab,” Bailey Cowan Heckaman said in a release. “Since Future Motion will not accept any responsibility through the CPSC’s efforts for its actions, we intend to hold the company accountable through the civil justice system.”