Vespa victims? Rise of scooters leads to increase in injuries, stress
As most U.S. states struggle to regulate the rising number of Euro-style motor scooters that are emerging on local streets and avenues, medical experts say the trend has led to a decidedly ominous trend.
A new study from Rutgers University, based on data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance system between 2008 and 2017, shows that U.S. scooter injuries have tripled in the time span (from 2,325 in 2008 to 6,497 in 2017.)
Additionally, most victims injured were males between 19 and 65, while one in three injuries happened to children between the ages of 6 and 12.
The rise in scooter injuries correlates with the rise in electric scooter usage, as riders turn to a “more environmentally friendly and efficient alternative to gas vehicles,” the report states.
Yet safety rules, especially helmet usage, vary on a state to state basis. That’s leading to more serious head injuries, Rutgers researchers say.
“Closed head injuries, such as concussion and bleeding or bruising of the brain, were most frequent, followed by facial cuts or abrasions, and about 5% of the injuries were fractures, most frequently in the skull or nose,” the report states.
Study co-author Amishav Bresler, a resident at Rutgers Medical School, says the data shows the need for uniform safety rules.
The report cites various rules in U.S. states, like in the District of Columbia, where helmets are not required for riders on “personal mobility devices.” Meanwhile, in New Jersey, state legislators have passed scooter safety laws in the U.S. that are more similar to bicycle rules than motorcycle laws.
“The United States should standardize electric scooter laws and license requirements should be considered to decrease the risky behaviors associated with motorized scooter use,” says Bresler.
The best move would be to emulate legislation in other countries, Bresler notes.
“In 2000, Italy implemented a law mandating helmet use for all types of recreational scooter drivers,” he says. “That reduced head trauma in scooter riders from about 27 out of 10,000 people before the law passed, to about 9 out of 10,000 people afterward.”
Advocates are worried about scooter safety
The widespread use of electric scooters has caught cities and states somewhat flatfooted, experts say.
“From our perspective, the scooter companies have dumped these on the cities and just expected the cities to deal with mostly tourists who are using them,” says Ross A. Jurewitz, a personal injury lawyer based in San Diego, Cal. “Riders here in San Diego still seem to be in vacation mindset, and they are getting hurt because they are not being careful and they are riding crappy scooters.”
State lawmakers are also focusing their legislative efforts in the wrong places, other experts say.
“Many states have no rules for electric scooters,” says David Reischer, attorney and chief executive officer at LegalAdvice.com
Reischer notes that, since 2015, there has been a steady stream of new state laws to regulate e-bikes, which includes scooters. “State legislation has mostly focused on how to classify a scooter as a certain type of motor vehicle and to promulgate a new set of rules surrounding the license, registration or equipment requirements,” he says.
Assuming the continued robust growth of scooter industry, state legislatures will likely continue to work to clarify the rules of operation that establish safety and equipment standards, Reischer says.
“As of right now, many states have no regulations that are specific to e-scooters,” he says. “Some states treat scooters the same as other motor vehicles or mopeds.”
In Chicago, where scooters were recently approved for city streets, local medical clinics and hospitals are already seeing more accident victims.
“Even though these types of scooters are new to the Chicago market, injuries from them are not,” says Grant Garrigues, a doctor at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush in Chicago.
As a shoulder and elbow orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush, Garrigues says he has “seen numerous injuries” from motorized scooters.
“Since scooters were just introduced in Chicago last weekend, the patients I’ve treated this summer had been in San Diego or Los Angeles on a quick trip for business or pleasure (where scooter usage is widespread),” he says. “They ended up in the emergency room in a sling and came to see me right after they got off the plane in Chicago.”
Garrigues advice for motorized scooter riders is both simple and straightforward.
“If you are thinking of hopping on, just be aware that if you’ve had a few drinks and haven’t ridden a scooter since you were eleven, it might end poorly,” he says. “Consequently, don’t drink and ride and be careful, as scooters move fast.”
Scooters “fun and efficient,” users say
What do commuters see in motorized scooters? Easy and efficient travel modes, for starters.
“I own and commute with an electric scooter in Boston, Mass.,” says Keith Anderson, a strategist at a local e-commerce analytics firm. “It started as a way to reduce my carbon footprint, but in the process, I’m saving an average of $30 and 30 minutes each day — and having more fun, too.”
Anderson had come to realize that his family auto was “too excessive” for his 3.2 mile commute. He also chose a scooter over a bicycle or e-bike, primarily for the following reasons:
- Flexibility. Most electric scooters fold, and some are small and lightweight enough to bring on a train or a bus, Anderson says. “I keep mine indoors at home and under my desk at the office,” he says.
- Performance. Anderson says he was “intrigued by the ability to climb hills and travel miles without breaking a sweat.”
- Personal safety. While e-skateboards and unicycles also look fun (Anderson says he sees more and more of them on his daily commute), safety was a priority. “I thought the learning curve would be shorter on a scooter and that the handlebar and optional suspension would keep me safer and more stable on hills and patchy terrain,” he says.
- For pure enjoyment. “My main considerations were functional, but the dockless scooters I had ridden were pretty fun, he says.
“Big trouble” with scooter use
What’s the near-term future for two-wheeled scooters on U.S. city and town roadways? More of the same, it appears, if states remain slow in getting a grip on the problem.
“Mopeds and scooters pose a threat to those who drive them, but not to others,” says Jake McKenzie, content manager at Auto Accessories Garage in Chicago, Il. “With the number of accidents involving scooters, it seems like it’s not a question of if you get hit, it’s a question of when you get hit and how hard.”
The big problem? Roads are dangerous, McKenzie says. “And taking to the roads unprotected on the likes of a scooter can mean big trouble even in a minor accident,” he says.