E-Scooters: A Growing - And Often Dangerous - Mode of Transportation
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
If you were like me growing up, a scooter was a prized possession – until I graduated to a two-wheel bicycle. The joy of that transition was surpassed only when I got my driver’s license and I gave my bike to a young cousin. But I don’t know whatever happened to my scooter.
Scooters are making a real comeback, especially electric scooters. These vehicles are designed for adults looking for an inexpensive mode of urban transportation.
E-scooter rental companies have popped up all over the country with a business plan similar to Zipcar’s rent it here, leave it there program.
San Francisco Shuts Down E-Scooter Companies, Then Relents
In San Francisco, the new e-scooter companies didn’t wait for city permits before they deployed hundreds of the vehicles around the city. City Hall promptly shut them all down. But last August, two companies won permits for each to place up to 625 e-scooters on the streets of San Francisco for six months of a year-long pilot program.
E-Scooters Spread to Colleges
The e-scooter fad has of course reached college campuses, including the University of Texas Austin. According to the Austin American-Statesman, there are more than 13,000 e-scooters in the city and on campus. In fact, the high number of the two-wheel vehicles are causing the university to contemplate new policies to restrict their use.
E-Scooter Accidents Can Lead to Injuries and Death
However, like other fads, e-scooters can be dangerous and occasionally lead to fatalities.
"There's a misconception that these scooters are toys, but they are motorized vehicles," Jack Zinda told the American-Statesman. "Part of the problem is the impression of these things, which is [that] they are easy to use. They are not," said the founder of the personal injury law firm Zinda Law Group.
Ranker, a social media data blog, lists 13 serious e-scooter accidents between 2015 and 2018, including two overseas fatalities.
In one case, a 22-year-old scooter shop employee in Singapore fell off his e-scooter. He broke his skull, which led to substantial bleeding in his brain. He died the following day, Ranker reported.
In the other fatality, a 15-year-old boy fell off his e-scooter in London. A bus dragged his body for roughly 600 feet before the bus driver realized what had occurred. Many witnesses of the accident chased after the bus to stop it, but by the time the bus slowed, the boy was dead.
Ten of the 13 e-scooter accidents cited by Ranker occurred in Southern California. McGee Lerer, a Santa Monica personal injury law firm, has seen its share of e-scooter accidents.
“A 67-year-old male was riding a Bird electric scooter on the roadway in San Diego last October,” the law firm reported. “He was going downhill when the brakes failed. He was thrown off the scooter. He struck his head, and even though he was wearing a helmet, he lost consciousness and suffered a brain injury, as well as wounds to his hand and elbow that became infected.” If he had not been wearing a helmet, he might have been a fatality too.
Study Finds that Less than Five Percent of E-Scooter Accident Victims Wore Helmets
How widespread are e-scooter accidents? Researchers and public health officials are not sure. The e-scooter phenomenon is too new for major long-term studies.
The University of California Los Angeles conducted one of the most recent analyses of e-scooter injuries and mishaps. The findings were published last month in JAMA Network Open.
The study looked at all e-scooter accident injuries treated at an unnamed medical center in Southern California between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2018.
Among the key findings:
- 8 percent of the patients were younger than 18 years.
- Fewer than five percent were wearing a helmet.
- The most common injuries were fractures (31.7%), head injuries (40.2%) and soft-tissue injuries (27.7%).
The UCLA researchers also determined that “injuries associated with electric scooter use were common, ranged in severity, and suggest low rates of adherence to existing regulations around rider age and low rates of helmet use.”
E-Scooter Regulations Vary Across Country
The few regulations that do exist vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some cities require e-scooter riders of all ages to wear helmets. In other areas, the helmet requirement pertains only to children up to 18 years old. But in many cases, riders routinely ignore the helmet requirement altogether.
Riders of electric scooters in California must be at least 16 years old. Rental companies won’t rent their vehicles to anyone under the age of 18. “Although California law required helmet use while operating electric scooters during the entire study period,” JAMA noted, “only 4.4% of injured scooter riders were documented to be wearing a helmet.”
New California Law Grants Helmet Exemption for E-Scooter Riders over 18
Nevertheless, a newly passed California law made helmet use optional for electric scooter riders older than 18 years on January 1, 2019. The medical journal noted that “it is unclear how this change in policy will affect rider practices and injury patterns.”
State and local legislatures will be carefully watching the effects of the new California law as they deal with the growing popularity of electric scooters.