Colleges, including Williams, tell students to leave hoverboards at home
BOSTON — One of the holiday's hottest presents is now considered contraband at many U.S. colleges.
At least 20 schools — including Williams College — have banned or restricted hoverboards in recent weeks, saying the two-wheeled, motorized scooters are unsafe. Beyond the risk of falls and collisions, colleges are citing warnings from federal authorities that some of the self-balancing gadgets have caught on fire.
Williams announced Thursday it will ban the use of hoverboards and will not allow students to store them on campus, according to Stephen Klass, vice president of campus life.
The college's office of Safety and Environmental Compliance has deemed that, no matter what the brand, the fire hazard has been "just too unpredictable," Klass said.
"There's been no real pattern to the way these things are exploding or just catching on fire," Klass said.
While hoverboards aren't commonly seen on campus, Klass said, students may have received hoverboards over the holidays. The college will safely store any student's hoverboard and return it at the end of the semester.
"It's clear that these things are potentially dangerous," said Len Dolan, managing director of fire safety at Kean University in Union, N.J. The public school of 14,000 students issued a campuswide ban effective on Monday, telling students in an email that any hoverboards found on campus would be confiscated.
"These things are just catching fire without warning, and we don't want that in any of our dorms," Dolan said.
Outright bans also have been issued at schools such as American University and George Washington University, both in Washington, D.C. Other schools said they will forbid the scooters in dorm rooms or campus buildings, a policy adopted at colleges including Louisiana State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Arkansas.
After banning hoverboards from dorms in December, officials at the University of Hartford in Connecticut are now considering a full ban because of concerns over how to store them safely, said David Isgu, a school spokesman. Some of the reported fires have occurred while the boards were being charged, authorities say.
At Ohio State University and Xavier University in Cincinnati, students were told they can bring a hoverboard only if it came with a seal showing that the board meets certain safety standards.
Bryce Colegrove, a sophomore at Shawnee State University in Ohio, got an email from his school on Tuesday telling students to leave their hoverboards at home after the holidays. It was bad timing for Colegrove, who had just received one as a gift from his girlfriend and had even plotted his new routes to class.
"Honestly I was really disappointed," said Colegrove, 20. "I don't think it's right to ban them. I mean, it's a college campus; it's not a high school."
Others took to social media to voice their frustration, with some saying they planned to bring their scooters to school anyway.
Hoverboards, which are made by several brands, already have been banned by the three largest U.S. airlines, citing potential fire danger from the lithium-ion batteries that power them.
The devices also are prohibited on New York City streets, and a new law in California requires riders to be at least 16 and wear a helmet in public.
On Monday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that it's now investigating 28 fires in 19 states tied to the motorized scooters. Fire officials from New Jersey to California have blamed the boards for fires that damaged homes. The federal commission also said there have been serious injuries caused by falls.
Colleges reported that even though the gadget has been gaining popularity, it's still relatively rare on campuses.
Dolan, of Kean University, said he saw about six students riding the scooters last fall. News of swift sales over the holidays, plus the reports of fires, led him to propose the ban.
"If that may inconvenience a couple dozen students, then that's what it's going to have to be," he said.
Fire officials in several states have issued their own warnings about the devices, including in New Jersey, were authorities recommended that all public colleges ban them.
Still, several colleges have suggested that they may allow hoverboards in the future. American University said its ban is temporary, but will last "until further notice." At Wellesley College near Boston, a policy bans the motorized scooters "until safety standards can be developed and implemented by the manufacturers."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.