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Pitt bans hoverboards from residence halls

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, 10:09 p.m.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver B.J. Daniels rides through a hallway in CenturyLink Field on an electric self-balancing scooter, commonly known as a hoverboard, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver B.J. Daniels rides through a hallway in CenturyLink Field on an electric self-balancing scooter, commonly known as a hoverboard, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Seattle.

Laugh at videos of people falling off hoverboards, but officials at the University of Pittsburgh and other schools aren't laughing at a potential fire danger.

The scooters run on a cluster of lithium-ion batteries that can overheat and catch fire if overcharged.

Pitt on Tuesday joined a growing list of campuses to ban hoverboards inside its residence halls.

Robert Morris University sent an email while students were on Christmas break banning them from campus. California University of Pennsylvania has told students returning to dorms for the spring semester to leave their hoverboards at home.

More than 30 colleges and universities have banned hoverboards.

“It was just a risk that we didn't see any reason to tolerate,” said Jonathan Potts, a Robert Morris spokesman and member of the campus emergency management committee that decided to ban hoverboards. “We'd rather err on the side of caution.”

Pitt's ban, announced through an email to students, affects only residence halls and university-owned apartments. Students can ride hoverboards on campus.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is discussing whether to prohibit hoverboards, said Michelle Fryling, a campus spokeswoman. Duquesne University and Point Park University have no policies on hoverboards. Carnegie Mellon University indicated last week it had not banned hoverboards.

Concerns about the two-wheeled, self-balancing scooters that look like skateboards have brought hoverboards about as much attention as the videos of people failing to ride them. If you haven't seen the video of Mike Tyson falling off one, Google it.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in December it had purchased several models and was studying their fire hazard potential. Most major airlines have banned hoverboards because of the fire risk. Amazon temporarily halted sales.

Trent Joynson, a freshman at Robert Morris, brought his hoverboard to campus every day before the ban.

“It made getting between classes easier,” he said.

Joynson, 20, of Dormont thought the university overreacted to what he called “news hype.” He works at 412 Hoverboards at South Hills Village Mall.

“The only ones that were exploding were the cheap, bootleg ones,” he said.

Hoverboards can cost $150 to nearly $1,000. Joey Martinez, sales manager at 412 Hoverboards, said to beware of hoverboards at the lower end of the cost spectrum. Cheap models don't have a battery management system that prevents them from overcharging and catching fire.

Martinez sells models starting at $400 that have a motherboard attached to the batteries to stop charging them once the cells are full. He keeps a “safe” and “unsafe” battery on hand to show customers the difference.

Of the more than 500 hoverboards he has sold since September, he said he hasn't heard of one catching fire.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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