Citing safety concerns and investigations by a federal agency, several local universities banned hoverboards — the popular scooter and Christmas gift — from local campuses, residence halls and other buildings.
A national hoverboard retailer that caters to college students said safety concerns are real from some models, but said their products are safe if used and charged properly.
The College of William and Mary sent a campus-wide e-mail to students Jan. 8, telling students to leave hoverboard at home. Christopher Newport University sent out a similar e-mail message to students around the same time.
“The primary goal of our temporary ban is the safety of our community. We made the announcement last week so that our students would be aware of this new policy before their return to campus from winter break,” Sam Jones, chair of William and Mary’s Emergency Management Team.
Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia also put temporary bans on hoverboards.
Thomas Nelson Community College is considering a ban, and Hampton University is also looking into the issue, according to college and university representative.
Although they're called hoverboards, the boards are actually portable and rechargeable scooters with two wheels connected by platforms that riders stand on. They range from $270 to $499 in price and can be purchased online.
A Google search for "hoverboard" brings up news stories on the self-balancing boards catching fire or exploding and "epic fail" videos showing falls.
Both universities instituted temporary bans about a month after the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission announced its hoverboard safety investigation.
Major airlines, including American, Delta, United and Southwest have all banned hoverbaords. Big-box online retailers Amazon.com and Overstock.com have stopped selling some models, the Associated Press reported.
Ben Bjerk, owner of U-scoot, which sells hoverboards to college and other students, said his California company's hoverboards haven't caught fire, and are safe.
"The (hoverboards) that have caught fire have quality issues," Bjerk said. "(Hoverboards) are not the 'ticking timebombs' that some people think they are."
Bjerk suggests customers only purchase hoverboards from reputable companies and not leave the hoverboards on chargers for more than three to four hours or overnight.
Hoverboards have been under scrutiny because some models have caught fire or exploded with riders on them or caught fire during/after charging, the federal agency said in a news release.
"CPSC field investigators are actively investigating hoverboard-related fires across the country and will open new cases as they come to our attention. We have purchased boards in the marketplace and we have taken possession of boards that caught fire," the federal agency's chairman, Elliot F. Kaye said.
Bjerk said hoverboards have the same kinds of lithium batteries as cell phones and computers. People have to be careful not to allow the hoverboard's batteries to run all the way down, or to ride them when the battery is low.
"This can damage cells in the battery, which can be a safety issue when you go to charge the hoverboards again," he said.
Fires are a primary concern, but the CPSC chairman said officials are also concerned about the number of hoverboard-related injuries nationwide. Since their investigation began in December, the CPSC has received dozens of calls from emergency rooms across the country about injuries from falls off hoverboards.
"Some of these injuries have been serious, including concussions, fractures, contusions/abrasions, and internal organ injuries. Always wear a proper helmet and padding while using this product," Kaye said.
Bjerk said the safety concerns are serious, and many falls stem from people getting on hoverboards the wrong way — from the front. Hoverboard riders should step on them from the back, one foot at a time and then get themselves balanced before putting pressure and their full weight on the board.
"It only takes a few minutes to learn how to use them safely," Bjerk said. "It's usually pretty easy to step on them from the back." The hoverboard company owner also suggest riders were helmets and pads when riding them.
Even following safety measures, local students still have to leave their hoverboards at home — for now.
Lori Jacobs, representative for CNU said, "At the conclusion of the safety review by theCPSC,the University will revisit the status of this restriction."
Other universities said they, too, will review bans after the CPSC investigation is complete.
Reach Canty at (757) 345-2341.
Nationally, more than 30 universities have banned or restricted the two-wheeled, motorized scooters on their campuses because of safety concerns. Area universities with bans include:
- The College of William & Mary
- Christopher Newport University
- Old Dominion University
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- James Madison University
- University of Virginia
- Virginia Tech
The following schools are still reviewing hoverboards:
- Thomas Nelson Community College
- Hampton University