They’re fast, they’re fun, and they’re a great alternative to driving. They’re electric scooters, and start-up companies like Spin, Bird, and Lime are churning them out by the thousands and dropping them off on city corners around the world. In Los Angeles alone, there will be 26,500 electric scooters on the streets this year, the largest number of any city in the United States.
But are they safe?
According to a recent study conducted by Rutgers University and published in The American Journal of Otolaryngology, electric scooter injuries are on the rise. They note there were 990 craniofacial injuries related to electric scooters at US emergency rooms between 2008 and 2017. The study also found that “the annual incidence was noted to triple over that 10-year period.”
And then there are the fatalities.
Earlier this year, a 53-year-old man was killed when he crashed an e-scooter into a tree in downtown San Diego. And in Singapore, a 22-year-old employee of a shop that sells e-scooters died after falling from his scooter and breaking his skull.
Tiara Munoz, an emergency medical technician (EMT) at a Los Angeles emergency room (ER), tells Parentology she’s seen an increase in electric scooter injuries since the popular vehicles became mainstream.
“We have mostly seen injuries in older patients,” Munoz says. “We recently had a 65-year-old tourist in the ER. She’d been convinced by her family to try [a scooter], but was unable to control the speed and crashed, fracturing her arm and shoulder.”
The Rutgers study concluded many injuries are a result of adult riders not wearing protective equipment. The study showed a whopping 66% of injuries that required a trip to the emergency room were caused by the rider’s failure to wear a helmet.
Another recent study, this one conducted by UCLA researchers, examined data from nearly 250 people who were treated for scooter injuries at emergency rooms around Los Angeles. Per the UCLA Newsroom, “the study found that about one-third of them arrived by ambulance, an indication of the severity of their injuries.”
“There are thousands of riders now using these scooters, so it’s more important than ever to understand their impact on public health,” Dr. Tarak Trivedi, an ER physician and the study’s lead author, said.
The UCLA study found patients fell into one of three categories: head injuries (40%), fractures (32%), and cuts, sprains or bruises without a fracture or head injury (28%). Most of the injuries were caused by falls, collisions with objects, or being struck by a moving vehicle.
Only 4% of the scooter riders were wearing a helmet.
The UCLA researchers also spent seven hours watching people ride electric scooters at various LA intersections. In that time, they observed 193 people riding scooters, and about 94% of them weren’t wearing helmets, even though California law requires them to do so.
In an email to Parentology, a Bird spokesperson pointed to a safety report the company released last April. It found that “injury rates for e-scooters are comparable to those for bikes, and when operators act responsibly and cities invest in safe streets, injury rates are lower for all vulnerable road users.”
The Bird report highlights the company’s “industry-leading safety policies and practices,” which include “ceasing operations after midnight when the risk to all road users increases … instituting responsible speed limits in consultation with city officials … and requiring riders to confirm they are 18 or older.”
But the UCLA study found 12% of injured riders were minors. “[To ride most e-scooters] you have to scan a driver’s license,” Dr. Trivedi tells Parentology. “Clearly minors are using an adult ID.”
Despite his study’s findings, Trivedi doesn’t want to see electric scooters off the roads. In fact, he’s a fan. “I use the scooters, I use electric bikes. It’s a positive change in the way we move around,” he says. “I’m all for micro-mobility. I just think we need to take it more seriously.”
Trivedi says it’s all about taking the proper precautions. “I always wear a helmet, ride in bike lanes when they’re available, and I’m hyper-aware [of my surroundings].”
He adds, “[E-scooters] seem like toys, when they’re actually electric vehicles that have the capacity for danger. But there’s a middle ground where you can be safe without stifling this cool new method of transportation.”