Hoverboard safety issues lead to a campus ban at Norwich

A rider stands on a overboard. Safety issues led to the devices being banned at Norwich along with many other schools.

A rider stands on a hoverboard. Safety issues led to the devices being banned at Norwich along with many other schools.

Considering the potential hazards of fires and explosions reported with the newly popular hoverboard (a platform supported by two wheels, and powered by an electric motor), the devices are now banned on the Norwich University campus.

Hoverboards were first popularized in the movie “Back to the Future II.” However, the hoverboards that first debuted in 2015 didn’t actually levitate like the ones in the movie. According to Cnet.com, a tech website, the “hoverboards” can be more accurately referred to as “self-balancing scooters,” which look and work like Segways without the handle bars.

Hoverboards have two pressure sensitive footpads that control your speed and allow you to steer with your feet. The hoverboard begins to move when you step on, making them tricky to step on and off from.

As reported on Cnet.com, it’s easy to fall off and tough to keep your balance. A user needs to use their core to keep their balance while their calves and feet help steer (www.cnet.com/how-to/buy-a-hoverboard/).

“It became apparent in December that hoverboards had problems,” said David Magida, Chief Administrative Officer at Norwich. “They were catching on fire whether they were charging or not.”

The hoverboard ban policy went into effect on Jan. 12, 2016, Magida said. “It was strongly unanimously important that we could not have these on campus,” said Magida.

Discussion had come up in the university safety committee about letting students store the hoverboards in their cars. But due to the risk of spontaneous combustion, Magida explained that if it were to catch on fire, there were considerable risks involved.

“We wanted to see what was happening in other places; we weren’t just following other places,” said Magida. “We were concerned about them and we saw the concerns” with other colleges, airlines, delivery companies, etc. “It became pretty clear what we had to do.”

“We decided to follow what most colleges were doing and just ban them,” said Magida. “We were just worried about the fire hazards the hoverboards pose. We didn’t discuss any other aspect of it.”

Many colleges “were scrambling to ban these hoverboards,” said Magida. But it’s not just schools; airlines were banning them as well because of concerns of a fire risk.

Magida also explained that delivery companies such as UPS and FedEx had placed restrictions on the hoverboards because the items were considered a fire hazard.

Magida explained that the safety committee moved pretty quickly on the decision to ban hoverboard usage on campus after multiple nationwide reports of unnecessary fires and explosions.

“The residence life director confiscated my hoverboard” said Marcellus Adams, a 20-year-old sophomore communications major from Upper Marlboro, Md. “She took it on Jan. 15, 2016.”

At the time, “there was no policy saying there was a ban,” said Adams. “Not on the website, in the dorm hallways, etc. It wasn’t until the day after I had gotten it confiscated that I saw the ban posted.”

“The hoverboard had been stored in the residence life director’s office,” said Adams. “I had the hoverboard shipped home, so it wouldn’t stay here.”

“I didn’t have any dangers or injuries with my hoverboard. My hoverboard also had a safety seal of approval,” Adams said.

However, media reports have noted that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has warned that the UL marking — one of the most respected safety certifications in the United States — found on some hoverboards should not be taken as a stamp of the product’s safety and that UL has in fact not reviewed any hoverboards. The UL seal in fact in some cases was counterfeit. (http://mashable.com/2016/01/24/hoverboard-industry-in-flames/#jD_12OGOisqE).

The Mashable article also mentioned that “malls, schools, and other spaces are taking measures to ban these from their hallways and premises, so be aware that the rules may not always be on your side.”

Popular Science magazine’s online website (Popsci.com) explained: “There’s an increasing concern about the safety of these vehicles. There are already thousands of hoverboard wipeout videos available on sites like YouTube, and in many cases, the personal vehicles have caused serious injury. In more extreme cases, cheaply made hoverboards have exploded and caught fire, forcing Amazon to stop selling specific models and Overstock to discontinue all sales. London and New York City have taken measures to curb the use of hoverboards on city streets and sidewalks.”

A USA Today article said “Amazon is now offering full refunds for customers who bought hoverboards, the popular electric self-balancing riding devices which have been implicated in multiple fires and explosions. The flammability of the lithium-ion batteries used to power the popular devices is a serious concern to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is currently investigating them.”

If the hoverboards were safe, there would be places that students can use them but not indoors, explained Magida. The rules for the hoverboards would be just like the rules for skateboards, bikes, etc.

“The hoverboard manufacturers are going to have to prove to the world that they can build these things without catching on fire,” said Magida. “It didn’t seem like there was any particular brands that caught on fire more than others.”

Wired.com, in a story about “a cheap version of the devices being sold with low quality battery packs that overheat” and explode, noted that information suggests the units are probably from China. (www.wired.com/2015/11/hoverboard-buying-guide/).

Cnet.com also stated in another article that “There’s no single reason why these hoverboards are exploding, and there’s no sure-fire way to avoid potential catastrophe if you want to buy one yourself. There’s no particular brand of hoverboard to avoid – they all seem to come from thousands of interchangeable factories in China – or any label on the box that guarantees a product won’t explode.”

Considering their record and the extensive issues associated with hoverboards, Norwich is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“I’m open to reconsidering, but only when these entities that we follow and monitor have proven in the marketplace that these things are safe,” said Magida. “For now this is a ban. We’ll reconsider at some point in the future, and there’s no timeline for its expiration. We don’t want anything that poses as a fire hazard on campus. We just need to be careful for obvious reasons.”

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