At the start of a new semester, North Carolina colleges are welcoming back students, but not their hoverboards.
Across the nation, colleges and universities have taken action to ban the self-balancing scooters from campus buildings because of fire concerns related to the lithium-ion batteries in the devices. In emails and letters this month, campus officials told students who live on campus not to bring hoverboards with them after the holiday break.
The devices have been barred from residence halls at Campbell, Duke, East Carolina, Meredith, N.C. Central, St. Augustine’s, UNC-Chapel Hill and William Peace University, among others. This week, N.C. State University prohibited them from outdoor areas of campus, as well as buildings. East Carolina extended the ban to university buses, too.
The rules at most campuses forbid students from using, charging or storing the gizmos in dormitories and university buildings.
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Any devices found will be confiscated and sent home at the owner’s expense, ECU said in a notice to students. “Recent information has revealed that the batteries in hoverboards and similar devices are dangerous and prone to explosion, creating a safety and fire risk,” the ECU post said.
At N.C. State, some members of the men’s basketball team – include star point guard Cat Barber – have been seen riding hoverboards on campus. But Barber said he understands the need for the campuswide ban.
It’s just a little toy. It’s not worth getting hurt.
Cat Barber, N.C. State University basketball player
“It’s just a little toy,” he said. “It’s not worth getting hurt.”
The bans don’t extend to private, off-campus apartment complexes, but several institutions are looking to formulate a broader campus policy governing hoverboards.
Universities are following the lead of major airlines that have banned hoverboards in recent weeks out of concerns about fire. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating a series of incidents where hoverboards burst into flames while charging or being used.
Allan Blattner, director of UNC-CH’s housing and residential education, cited warnings from the commission and the National Fire Protection Association. “We and other campuses really thought it was a prudent move at this point to ban them for now,” Blattner said. “Then of course, if the groups that are looking into their safety come back and give us the all clear, we’d love to give students the opportunity to use them — if it’s safe for everybody to do so.”
The Daily Tar Heel newspaper published a tongue-in-cheek column, suggesting alternative modes of campus transportation such as skateboards, Segways, rolling chairs and Heelys, or shoes with embedded wheels.
The ban, columnist Alexis Hinnant wrote, came as a sad surprise for students, “because I’d say after toothpaste, soap and face wash, hoverboards were a solid number four on the packing list. But now, students are just left with an empty space in their hoverboard cases of what could have been amazing bonding time with all of the cyclists on campus. As well as the unfortunate burden of actually walking to class.”
You don’t want students missing class and walking around campus with broken arms and everything else because they’re falling off these things.
Houston Summers, student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill
UNC’s student body president, Houston Summers, said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the new rule. He said the boards don’t seem to be wildly popular at UNC, though he did see a few students zipping around campus last fall.
“They really weren’t that common on campus before the break,” Summers said.
Hoverboards were a hot Christmas item until a few major retailers pulled them from shelves over safety concerns. Hospitals also reported an uptick in broken bones and other injuries related to the boards. Videos of hoverboard wipeouts have spread on the Internet, along with a video-strewn Twitter account called @HoverBoardFalls, which has nearly 27,000 followers.
Federal consumer officials recommended that anyone using a hoverboard wear padding and a proper helmet, but online videos suggest that many riders don’t.
Summers thinks the ban isn’t a bad idea. “You don’t want students missing class and walking around campus with broken arms and everything else because they’re falling off these things – even though I hear they are extremely easy to ride, once you get the hang of it,” he said.
Blattner cited only the fire risk in his letter to UNC students.
A heightened awareness of fire safety arose at UNC in 1996 after five students died in a graduation day blaze at a fraternity. Afterward, the state spent tens of millions of dollars on sprinkler systems for residence halls at public universities around North Carolina. At UNC, mandatory fire safety education was instituted for fraternities and sororities, whose members were required to watch a film about the 1996 fire.
Staff writer Joe Giglio contributed to this report.