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Are Electric Scooters Safe?

Posted on Aug 08, 2019

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Rentable dockless electric scooters already are in wide use in Tampa and may be coming soon to other parts of the bay area.

Under a pilot program that started May 25, Tampa’s city staff have logged more than 230,000 scooter rides. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in June that makes e-scooters legal for use on streets and bike paths throughout the state, though municipalities may restrict use. Users generally can rent a scooter through a smartphone app and then leave the scooter at their destination. The St. Petersburg city council is developing an ordinance to regulate scooters, including prohibiting their use on sidewalks. Clearwater passed a six-month ban in June while it studies the issue.

“E-scooters are coming our way fast,” says Danielle Mercurio, D.O., FAAP, an Emergency Center physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “Families who live in or are visiting cities with e-scooters should discuss their use and establish a plan ahead of time.”

Are these scooters safe?

A study conducted by the Public Health and Transportation departments in Austin, Texas, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raises questions about scooter safety. Researchers studied an 87-day period in Austin from early September to late November 2018 and concluded 190 people—about 20 for every 100,000 rides—had confirmed or probable injuries while riding e-scooters that required treatment by an emergency center or emergency medical services. The authors believe there were many other injuries that may have received urgent care or lesser treatment. Nearly half (45%) of the confirmed injuries were head injuries.

A September 2017-August 2018 study of injuries associated with e-scooters in two Los Angeles emergency centers published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open raises similar concerns. That study found scooter injuries to be more common than bicycle or pedestrian injuries and that 40.2 percent of the scooter injuries were head injuries.

“If you are comfortable with your family using e-scooters, learning ‘how to fall’ has been proven to prevent injuries in sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and possibly wake-boarding,” Mercurio says. “Recommendations include crouching down when you feel as if you are losing control so you don’t fall as far, attempting to roll when falling rather than putting your arms and hands out first, attempting to land on more fleshy body parts such as buttocks, hips and thighs rather than hands, feet and head, and trying to relax your body when falling to allow forces to dissipate on contact. Practice falling with your children on soft surfaces or grass to make them more comfortable and familiar with the way their bodies respond to gravity.”

Most e-scooter companies require riders to be 18 or older, but enforcement is limited. In the Austin study, 4.7 percent of injuries were among riders 18 or younger. The Los Angeles study reported 10.8 percent of the patients were 18 or younger.

“Unfortunately, e-scooter apps do not require parental consent for use,” Mercurio says. “Emphasize to your children that apps and purchases on all smartphones can be monitored and privileges removed if necessary. With older teens and college-aged young adults, be firm in discussing operation of e-scooters while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or certain prescription medications, and remind them of the very serious consequences. No one, not even adults, should operate a scooter while impaired, or distracted by things such as loud music via ear buds or headphones, and texting.”

A Tampa man was killed in June when the e-scooter he was riding was struck by a semi-trailer truck. That’s unusual, according to the Austin study, which reported no deaths and that only 10 percent of injuries involved colliding with a motor vehicle.

Many e-scooter riders do not wear helmets, which increases the danger. The Los Angeles study reported only 4.4 percent of riders wearing helmets, and the Austin study showed an even lower rate among those who were injured.

“We found that less than one percent of injured people were wearing a helmet when their injury occurred,” says the CDC’s Laurel Harduar Morano, Ph.D., M.P.H., in a media release about the study. “We know from bicycle-related injuries and deaths that helmet use reduces the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of a bicycle crash. Helmet use might also reduce the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of a dockless electric scooter crash.”

Mercurio strongly urges riders to wear protective gear: “Helmets reduce the risk of mortality by 85% when worn during cycling and therefore should be used while e-scooting. Closed-toed shoes will prevent entanglement of feet within wheels and flip flops should be avoided at all times. Elbow and kneepads are recommended, as well as reflective gear when riding at night.”

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