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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Tufts issues ban on hoverboards over fire safety concerns

Tufts Fire Marshal John Walsh in his office in Dowling Hall on Jan. 28, 2016.

Tufts has banned the usage, storage and charging of hoverboards on all three university campuses following a Jan. 12 email announcement to the Tufts community.

According to University Fire Marshal John Walsh, who authored the email along with Associate General Counsel Akiyo Fujii and University Risk Manager Bret Murray, the ban was implemented strictly because of concerns over fire safety hazards.

“We’re not doing it for the sake of having a ban," Walsh said. "We’re just trying to avoid a potential threat to health and safety."

Walsh explained that a committee was formed last December to discuss the risks, public safety concerns and legal concerns surrounding hoverboards, in response to the scooters' popularity this winter season. He said the committee thought carefully about all the options available in addressing fire safety concerns, including designating a building that isn't wood-framed for students to store their hoverboards so that dorms would not be put at risk of fires. However, Tufts ultimately decided that this alternative plan would be impractical and risky, he said.

Walsh added that because hoverboards were expected to be a popular holiday gift, the committee wanted to release information about the ban before students came back from winter break. He explained that hoverboard bans from shipping companies, mainly air carriers concerned about fires on planes, were another reason for the ban’s implementation before students returned to campus. 

“If we banned [hoverboards] afterwards, they'd have to ship them home, and some air carriers and other shipment companies are not allowing hoverboards as part of their shipment,” he said.

Tufts is also one of 30 colleges and universities to ban the popular devices, according to a Jan. 7 article in the Associated Press.

The trend of university bans on hoverboards began after reports of the devices spontaneously catching fire appeared on the national news cycle last December, as reported in a Dec. 14 New York Times article. The Consumer Product Safety Commission later released a statement on Dec. 16 declaring the device a fire hazard.

According to a Dec. 19 story on NPR, hoverboard explosions are likely caused by the poor quality of the scooter's lithium-ion batteries, which contain flammable electrolytes.

The nature of university policies on hoverboards vary, however. At the University of Iowa, for example, students are allowed to ride hoverboards but may not bring them into campus buildings, according to the AP report. At Ohio State University, students can bring their hoverboards wherever they would like, so long as their devices came with seals guaranteeing that they met certain safety standards. Meanwhile, Tufts' policy bans the on-campus presence of the devices altogether.

However, Walsh said that the ban will not be strictly enforced.

"It’s not like we’re going to be on hoverboard patrol," he said. "It’s just that if an alert staff member saw a student walk into a building with one, they’d say that’s not allowed here."

The language of the ban was written to apply not only to Tufts students, but to anyone who might be on campus, according to Walsh.

“The ban is not aimed at students," he said. "It’s aimed at safety. If…you have somebody visiting here, or who works here but doesn’t live here, going to the library or to the gym and bringing the hoverboard in with them, at that point this hazard is being brought into buildings that have potentially hundreds of people inside. Until the problem gets fixed, we have to due our due diligence to keep everyone safe.”

First-year Zian Jiang, who owns a hoverboard and had stored and used it on campus last semester, feels that the ban is an overreaction. 

“I feel like it was some type of overthinking,” he said. “Even sometimes iPhones or vapes, that kind of stuff also sometimes catches on fire. You can’t, based on some instances, just ban all of them.”

However, Jiang said it is reasonable for Tufts to be concerned about the dangers of hoverboards while updated versions with safer batteries have yet to be introduced.

Walsh added that if product improvements in hoverboards eventually eliminate the risk of fires, he and the committee would reconsider the ban. 

“If the evidence is there; if there’s improvements made and they're backed up by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, I don’t see any reason why Tufts wouldn’t reconsider,” he said.