Like many other toys, children’s ride-on replica vehicles have adopted electrical systems and propulsion for the greater enjoyment of their users.
Battery powered (electric) ride-on toys, whether intended for use indoors or outdoors, offer children the experience of driving and controlling motor vehicles which are tailored to their size and capabilities. These toys depend on many IEC International Standards to ensure they are as safe and reliable as possible for use by children.
Wide choice for young enthusiasts
The range of kids’ electric ride‑on vehicles has expanded from established favourites like cars and motorcycles to include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), tricycles, quad bikes, go-karts, trucks, tractors, fork lifts and dump trucks. Motorcycles come in three-wheeled versions for the youngest riders, two-wheeled types with training wheels and smaller versions of real motorcycles or dirt bikes. Trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) tend to be larger than electric cars and typically seat more than one person.
There are close connections between ride-on toy cars and their real-life counterparts, as car companies license their designs to toy companies and toy manufacturers reflect motor industry trends in their products. As well as scaled‑down versions of actual cars, ride-on vehicles also emulate popular TV as well as film character designs. These licensed cars are packed with features such as MP3 player inputs, front and rear lights and turn indicators, horns and remote controls. As they are made under the supervision of the parent car company, their quality, paintwork and electrics are of a higher standard than those of the budget ranges. High-end ride-on vehicles are fitted with integrated electronics and new technology such as remote control capability via smartphones, realistic engine sounds and other sound effects controlled by buttons on the dashboard.
Several IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and their SCs (Subcommittees) prepare International Standards on the components, systems and safety aspects of toys that use electricity in any form, as well as the transformers and rechargeable batteries used with them. These standards cover electric motors, safety devices, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and infrared, light or touch sensors, MP3 players, touch-screen tablets and other components integrated in ride-on vehicles.
The majority of ride-on vehicles are low‑priced products made in China and exported worldwide, while higher‑priced vehicles are produced in Europe, the US or elsewhere in Asia. Demand is particularly strong from buyers in Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East. According to South Korea’s Arirang TV, the global market for children’s electric cars was estimated at USD 1 billion in 2014 and is forecast to double to around USD 2,2 billion in 2016. This represents a small but growing part of all global toy sales, which total more than USD 80 billion a year, according to the New York‑based Toy Industry Association.
Choosing the appropriate vehicle for a child’s age is extremely important, especially for safety reasons. Other factors to bear in mind are the child’s motor skills, height, weight and the location and terrain in which the electric vehicle will be used.
Speed and range
All electric vehicles for children are powered by some type of rechargeable battery, usually sealed lead acid batteries, and are sold with mains-powered chargers. The vast majority of batteries are either 6 V or 12 V. Most ride‑ons use 12 V 12 Ah batteries. More expensive ride-on vehicles like electric bicycles, go‑karts, self-balancing scooters and motorized skateboards may use rechargeable Li-ion (lithium ion) batteries.
IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, prepares product standards for rechargeable batteries of the type used in children’s ride-on vehicles.
The power supply has a huge impact on two features of ride-on toys. It will determine the power and speed of the car, and will also affect how long the toy can be ridden between charges. Typically, 6 V batteries allow a vehicle to travel at around 4 km/h for just over an hour on a single charge, while a 12 V battery will allow up to three hours of driving at speeds of 8 km/h.
6 V vehicles are the entry-level engine size. They are designed to have a low power output and to be fitted in vehicles designed for very young children, with slow acceleration and slow top speeds. Most basic models for children under two years old are small, light-weight and intended for indoor use. They usually have only one speed, with easy push-button operation.
12 V vehicles are designed for older children, and usually have two forward speeds and one reverse speed. They offer a little more power although this can be restricted with a speed limiting feature. For children aged between two and four, multiple different styles and sizes of vehicles are available. They include features like progressive acceleration, working radios with MP3 players, realistic engine sounds and foot pedal operation, and offer speeds up to about 10 km/h. Some larger cars are designed to be used outdoors on grass, gravel or even dirt and mud. Another step up in this age group is the inclusion of multiple-person vehicles, which require additional safety precautions like extra seat belts. Products aimed at the 5 to 7 year old age group look more like real vehicles and feature faster speeds.
Electric ride-on cars at the very top of the scale can cost more than USD 1 000. One of these “supercars”, made in South Korea, has twin electric motors, four-wheel drive, electronic disc brakes, LED headlights, and a touchscreen entertainment system accessed from a detachable Android tablet that also allows parents to change settings like driving mode and maximum speed, as well as providing remote control via Bluetooth 4.0. Sensors in the car measure its electric current, voltage, direction and internal temperature. IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, and its SCs, include sensors in a number of their publications
International Standards for electronic displays such as those used in touch-screen tablets are prepared by IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices.
IEC TC 61: Safety of household and similar electrical appliances, has produced IEC 62115: 2004,Electric Toys – Safety, which deals with the safety of toys intended for use by children under 14 years of age and that feature at least one function that is dependent on electricity. This Standard applies to toys containing lasers or LEDs.
The safety aspects of ride-on toys revolve around batteries and electric motors, ease of operation and braking, the range of functions offered by the remote controls and use of the correct type of charger with appropriate voltage output to avoid the risk of electrical fires.
Basic precautions include seat belts as standard, ensuring that seats are well attached to their bases and fitting speed limiters. A “smart pedal” feature means that as soon as the driver takes their foot off the acceleration pedal, the vehicle will stop, making it safer and easier for children to handle than the typical accelerator/brake pedal systems in adult cars.
A remote control allows the in-car controls to be over-ridden so that forward and backward movement as well as steering can be activated by the remote control device, which typically has a range of between 15 and 30 m. Remote controls are most common in 6 V ride-on cars and some 12 V models, although high-end models also come with more sophisticated remote controls which are operated via smartphone applications.
The most expensive ride-on cars have active driving systems based on sensors that measure the vehicle’s electric current, voltage, revolutions per minute (RPM), direction and internal temperature, as well as monitoring the condition of the road and the environment. The car’s central processing unit (CPU) uses the data collected to actively detect abnormal activities and either activate the emergency stop or give voice instructions to take appropriate action, such as resting the vehicle for a while or moving it to a safer place.
Other safety hazards in ride-on toys can include overheating caused by short circuits in the wiring under the bonnet and in the battery compartment (usually under the seat), and fires resulting from the use of battery chargers with the wrong voltage output.
The safety and remote control features of high-end ride‑on vehicles are likely to become commonplace in cheaper models as demand increases and sales grow.
Ride-on vehicles will also increasingly reflect the trend to integrate electronics and new technology with toys to create additional and new playing possibilities. These include features like digital light-emitting diode (LED) battery meters; Wi-Fi; dashboard cameras streaming audio, video or stills to smartphones and driving simulation modes combined with traffic safety education guides.
Some manufacturers have started incorporating solar technology in outdoor ride-on vehicles such as go‑karts. One model uses a monocrystalline silicon solar panel mounted on the rear wing of a go‑kart powered by a 24 V 16 Ah battery pack to continuously recharge the vehicle while in use.
Modified electric cars also offer an affordable alternative to expensive motorized children’s wheelchairs which can cost up to USD 20 000. Several US universities operate schemes to adapt ride-on cars, including modifications like adding buttons instead of foot pedals, to give children who are physically and developmentally disabled the ability to move about and travel on their own.
International Standards prepared by a number of IEC TCs enable the manufacturers and importers of electric ride‑on vehicles to demonstrate that their products comply with national legislation. They also offer assurances to parents that the products meet the highest standards of safety. However, the responsibility for choosing appropriate toy vehicles carefully and supervising how they are used rests ultimately solely with parents and adults.
Written by Peter Feuilherade for our e-tech.