(Photo credit: Alya Nowilaty/Fourth Estate)
Hoverboards are now banned from Mason residence halls. Zachary Pope, director of University Life Safety and Emergency Management, informed the community of this new policy in an email sent on Dec. 18, 2015.
In addition, Pope and David Farris, director of Safety and Emergency Management, said a ban on hoverboards in all buildings on campus will soon be in effect as part of a revision of Mason’s Fire Safety Plan. This updated plan will be sent in an email to students in the coming weeks. Restrictions on the devices will be enforced by threat of confiscation.
Despite their misleading name, these oft-described “Segways without handles” do not actually hover off the ground. Instead, the two-wheeled devices speed along, controlled by the rider, who shifts their weight forward, backward or side-to-side.
Unfortunately, hoverboards also have a tendency to spontaneously catch fire while charging or in use, according to various reports, which is the reason for the ban.
Nearby universities have also banned the devices. Farris said Old Dominion University, for example, has instituted a policy banning “self-balancing electric wheeled boards.” He also said the College of William & Mary, James Madison University and the University of Missouri have instituted restrictions.
Pope said the ban in residence halls will be enforced through the fire code violation inspections that occur every semester.
“What will happen [if a hoverboard is found] is that it will be immediately confiscated by someone with a full-time staff level position,” Pope said. “It will be stored in a way that we have been advised is safe. The student will then have 120 days to come claim the device and either ship it home by UPS ground or USPS ground, and if they don’t, then we will have to take measures to dispose of it in a way that is environmentally safe.”
However, the policy differs slightly for hoverboards discovered in other Mason buildings, which likely belong to off-campus students, according to Pope and Farris.
“For hoverboards found in university buildings, I like to call it a valet service,” Farris said. “What we would like to do is politely ask people to hand over their hoverboard, and we will store it for them in a secure location that if they should spontaneously combust, it will not cause damage to any buildings. We will return it to them when they collect it, and they just need to take it off campus.”
Hoverboards are supposedly catching on fire because of their lithium-ion batteries, the same type of battery used in iPhones and many other electronic devices. While nobody is exactly sure what causes these batteries to combust in hoverboards but not in iPhones, there are multiple theories. Farris, for example, noted that many of the hoverboards that combust are “cheap knockoffs that [sellers are] trying to pass off as being legitimate.”
That the cause of the fires has yet to be determined seems to be a chief cause for concern among consumers and organizations alike. Farris noted that investigations are underway by the National Fire Protection Association and the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
“These groups usually don’t weigh in on something unless it’s pretty bad,” Farris said, which has led to multitudes of institutions taking steps to curtail the devices, including airlines.
As any Mason student who was on campus during the fall semester can attest, hoverboards are popular among students. Sophomore finance major Mohammad Adam, whose two roommates owned hoverboards, agreed the ban is probably a good idea.
“These things have exploded, and I don’t think that it’s a bad thing that they’re banning them on campus,” Adam said.
Even hoverboard owner Ty Raffensperger, a sophomore computer engineering major and one of Adam’s roommates, agreed with the ban.
“People don’t understand the electronics behind them, but it seems like the combustion is due to overcharging,” Raffensperger said. “The batteries in them are pretty cheap, and when they are charged overnight, they can become unstable. They’re a lot of fun to ride, but they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I wouldn’t want my dorm burning down because somebody else [is charging their hoverboard].”
Farris expressed a similar sentiment, emphasizing that the ban is all about student safety.
“It’s not about taking something away from a student,” Farris said. “We’re just trying to make sure that you sitting next to another student isn’t putting that student in risk for something that you brought to the university.”