Hoverboard restrictions enacted on campus


Illustration by Heidi Watchel

By Natasha Nellis, Contributing Writer

Following the outburst of hoverboard fires in the news, EWU enacted an interim policy to ban hoverboards from being stored on campus. Steps were taken leading up to this decision, a rough draft of the policy exchanged from group to group, and a final interim policy, available for viewing on the school’s website, was enacted.

Trent Lutey, university policy administrator, considered buying his daughter a hoverboard for Christmas when the rash of hoverboard fires caught his attention. Lutey said that following this, his office was contacted by a student who voiced concerns about the safety of hoverboards. This, along with the ban enacted by Washington State University on Jan. 10, had EWU’s administration board’s attention, which started the process of both considering whether or not Eastern needed a similar policy and what exactly it should say.

Lutey said the University Policy Administration staff viewed videos online of hoverboards bursting into flames and examined the reports released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that warned of the potential fire hazards of hoverboards.

Then the staff consulted other departments on campus, including campus police and the Risk Management Committee, to determine the policy’s necessity as well.

Laurie Connelly, associate to the president at EWU, said one of the challenges faced was determining which hoverboards to ban, and how wide the policy needed to span. “Although they are different brands [the important parts] all come from the same factories,” Connelly said. The important parts are the lithium ion batteries which are the determined cause for the fires.

These cheaply-made batteries, according to an article on wired.com, burst into flames if they are damaged, overcharged or if something punctures the separator between the circuits. The real danger however, is that there is no way of telling there is something wrong with the machine until it is too late, said Jay Whitacre, professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in an interview with wired.com.

This unpredictability was a large linchpin in the decision to ban hoverboards said Lutey and Connelly. A video was put online of a student at the University of Washington, Bothell campus, who barely made it outside with his hoverboard before it burst into flames, which could have started a fire in the dorms, said Lutey. Connelly said the primary concern is student safety, and with this in mind, the policy process began.

Eastern Washington University has its own policy management system where proposals are first researched, then passed off to Eastern’s attorneys to ensure the legality of the proposals and if they comply with federal laws, and to see if any federal agencies require policies. Then it is discussed with those whom the policy would affect, and those comments are taken into consideration. “Part of our goal is to get people’s involvement … we have many times amended the policies,” Connelly said.

Lutey said the university had policies before that created “a bit of uproar.” The social media policy for example, enacted in 2011, detailed the proper usage rules of anyone using the school’s social media platform and the policy administration staff met with those groups who voiced concerns to discuss their issues.

Next, a draft was put together, which was then handed to the attorney general to once more check for legal compliance. After, it was given to the university president and the president’s executive committee to ensure the final product was what the university needed, and an interim policy was enacted.

The policy as it stands now does not prohibit the presence of hoverboards on campus grounds, but they are not permitted to be stored on campus or in campus housing. “People might just be traversing the campus,” Lutey said, giving an example of a high school student heading home, so they did not opt to completely ban hoverboards from campus grounds.

The interim policy, which took effect Jan. 15, will only be effective for 150 days, according to Connelly, as this is standard policy procedure. As it stands, the current hoverboard ban will be ineffective on June 13.

For the policy to become permanent, the board of trustees must choose to enact it. It is currently on its agenda and was discussed on Feb. 26. According to Connelly, the board will consider the policy twice before it is added to the official school policy. The meeting on Feb. 26 was the first of these discussions.

“Until there is at least some regulatory standards,” Connelly said, whether by the CPSC or the companies manufacturing the hoverboards. “The school will continue to ban [them].”