The University recently announced a hoverboard ban on Grounds. Safety professionals at the University created the policy “to protect the University community from the individual safety and fire hazards associated with these devices,” per University Spokesperson Matthew Charles.
The decision to prohibit the two-wheeled gadgets was based on information provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals. The National Fire Protection Association has also issued fire safety warnings following media coverage of several recent fire incidents.
University safety professionals made the right move by instituting a ban. Fire safety concerns associated with hoverboards introduce a threat not only to the individual user who rides a hoverboard, but to the greater community as well. Given that the CPSC has already tallied at least 12 incidents of hoverboards catching fire since hoverboards surged in popularity, it is fair for the University to believe hoverboards pose enough of a risk to others to warrant a ban on Grounds.
One may contend that the ban on hoverboards is emblematic of paternalistic attitudes toward students from University administrators. However, the decision appears to be more concerned with keeping students safe rather than regulating student behavior.
No matter how responsible a student is in using and storing his hoverboard, the risk of fire is unrelated to user habits. The hoverboards are often manufactured using cheap lithium-ion batteries prone to causing combustion. Even if your hoverboard were in your dorm room unattended, it could still catch fire. It’s not a matter of using a hoverboard safely, but of using one at all.
The ban is consistent with existing fire safety-related policy that does not allow certain devices on Grounds. The University already prohibits halogen lamps without bulb guards, a policy motivated by the release of a CPSC safety alert. Such lamps have been known to cause fires, including here at the University. Other banned items include lightweight extension cords, which cannot be used as permanent wiring by fire code. The reason a hoverboard ban generates more buzz among students is that hoverboards are one of the trendiest gadgets to emerge from the holiday season. What might appear to be a hasty administrative reaction to a novel behavior among students is actually in line with the way safety professionals have responded to other hazardous devices on Grounds.
It’s worth noting that the University is not alone in banning hoverboards. Nearby colleges such as Virginia Tech and Radford University have also barred them, not to mention major U.S. airlines and entire cities such as New York. Until the hoverboard is designed to be more robust and reliable, institutions such as ours have reason to establish bans on the device.