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Study shows sharp rise in e-scooter injuries since 2017

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Researchers estimate that nearly 40,000 people went to a hospital emergency department between 2014 and 2018 for the treatment of injuries involving e-scooters.

As the popularity of electric scooters has increased, so has the frequency of scooter-related injuries, including serious ones, according to a study published this week in JAMA Surgery.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of people who sought treatment in a U.S. hospital emergency department for an scooter-related injury rose by 222 percent to more than 39,000, while the number who were admitted to the hospital for their injury climbed by 365 percent to nearly 3,300, the study found.

Most of those increases occurred after 2017, which was the year that rentable, dockless e-scooters were first introduced to U.S. cities. Almost a third of the injuries involved a concussion or other type of trauma to the head, a rate twice as high as that among bicyclists, the study’s authors point out.

And in 2018 — for the first time — young adults (aged 18 to 34) were more likely to be injured in e-scooter accidents than children and teenagers.

“E-scooters are a fast and convenient form of transportation and help to lessen traffic congestion, especially in dense, high-traffic areas,” said Dr. Benjamin Breyer, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), in a released statement. “But we’re very concerned about the significant increase in injuries and hospital admissions that we documented, particularly during the last year, and especially with young people.”

“There was a high proportion of people with head injuries, which can be very dangerous,” he added. “Altogether, the near doubling of e-scooter trauma from 2017 to 2018 indicates that there should be better rider safety measures and regulation.”

Where the data came from

For the current study, Breyer and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is run by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.  The NEISS database contains a nationally representative sample of injury data from about 100 hospital emergency departments.

Based on that data, the researchers estimated that nearly 40,000 people went to a hospital emergency department between 2014 and 2018 for the treatment of injuries involving e-scooters. The rate of such injuries more than tripled during that time period, from 6 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 19 per 100,000 in 2018.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority (78 percent) of those injuries occurred in urban areas.

Two-thirds of the people showing up at hospitals with e-scooter injuries were boys or men. Children and teens were the most likely to get injured — at least until 2018, when young adults surpassed them. The study estimates that 5,309 people aged 18 to 34 went to hospitals for scooter-related injuries in 2018, compared to 4,843 people under age 18.

Of course, people of any age are at risk. The study also estimates that 1,346 people overage the age of 55 sought care at a hospital in 2018 for a scooter-related injury.

The most common injuries were fractures (27 percent), followed by contusions and abrasions (23 percent) and lacerations (14 percent).

Limitations and implications

The study comes with caveats. Most notably, its injury numbers are estimates, not a counting of all the actual cases. But, as the study’s authors point out, those estimates are more likely to understate than overstate the problem, due to the fact that some riders undoubtedly avoided seeking emergency care at a hospital, despite their injuries.

The study also didn’t delve deeper in the hospital data to get more information about the accidents, such as whether the e-scooter rider collided with a motor vehicle, whether alcohol or drugs was involved, or whether the rider was wearing a helmet.

A study published last year found, however, that a significant proportion of people who are seriously injured while riding e-scooters are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Most of those injured riders were also not wearing a helmet.

“Previous research has demonstrated helmet use is associated with lower risk of head injury,” the authors of the current study write.

Riders should wear helmets, they stress, and companies that have made rentable, dockless e-scooters available in cities across the country (including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth) should encourage helmet use by making them more easily accessible.

FMI: You’ll find the study on JAMA Surgery’s website, although the full paper is behind a paywall.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 01/10/2020 - 09:41 am.

    I’m not really disputing the findings, but would point out these are numbers of incidents and are not normalized to some metric such as number of users or miles ridden. So the data may simply be due to more riders or miles ridden, and not some other factor.

  2. Submitted by David Markle on 01/10/2020 - 11:24 am.

    Part of the problem must be the fact that the riders get onto the sidewalk where the darn things are parked in the first place.

  3. Submitted by linda comstock on 01/10/2020 - 11:35 am.

    3 scooter companies have left San Diego due to regulations imposed because of high accident rates

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/10/2020 - 02:13 pm.

    It is frustrating to see a reference to specific injury rates, “[t]he most common injuries were fractures (27 percent), followed by contusions and abrasions (23 percent) and lacerations (14 percent),” followed by vague claims that “[m]ost of those injured riders were also not wearing a helmet,” but no specificity about how many of the injuries might have been prevented by helmet use.

    How many of the fractures were to the skull? Is there not data on concussions? Citing such injuries, particularly if correlated with helmet use would be far more compelling. Given the data provided we don’t know whether helmets would have prevented or reduced the severity of any of the injuries. For example, the last time I crashed my bike, my helmet did nothing to prevent a significant laceration on my shin.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/10/2020 - 04:25 pm.

      Brian, it’s very difficult to make any claims regarding helmet protection. I know a cyclist who simply fell off her bicycle while standing still and fractured her skull, and she was wearing a fancy shmancy cyclist helmet.

      These helmets aren’t tested in any reliable way, they wrap some plastic around some styrofoam and you’re good to go. Who knows what kind of protection they actually offer in the real world. Back in the 90s ER docs all over the place were making all kinds of helmet claims they simply had to business making, they’d a cyclist with banged up knee and tell em if they hadn’t been wearing a helmet they be dead. Whatever.

      One thing we do know is that the majority of injuries (two thirds) do not involve head injuries. And while head injuries CAN be serious, for some reason they never report how many of them ARE serious. We can talk about concussions but five times as many kids get concussion playing team sports (in 2016 45k teens suffered concussion from sports).

      Injuries aren’t a good thing, but it’s to be expected that a new mode of transport like this is potentially dangerous and you’ll see a corresponding spike in injuries as more people use them. Nevertheless it’s good be aware of the dangers.

      I personally think they go too fast. Most of them in the Twin Cities can go up to 15 mph, that’s pretty fast. I think they should be limited to 10 mph. That’s 4 or 5 time faster than walking, and slower than most bicycles.

      • Submitted by David Markle on 01/11/2020 - 11:55 am.

        And for that matter, I think cyclists should be held below 6 mph on sidewalks where cycling isn’t prohibited (as it is in business districts under state law).

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/12/2020 - 10:37 am.

          6 mph? Interesting suggestion. Cyclist definitely have to slow down on sidewalks, but not all sidewalks are and scenarios are the same. I ride on some sidewalks over here in St. Louis Park on occasion, I know I ride at a safe speed but I’ve never actually looked at my speed, I would guess it’s somewhere between 5-10 mph depending on the circumstances.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/12/2020 - 11:37 am.

    Just one last comment: I’d really like to see just a couple more demographic data points on research like this. We have basic gender and age information but frankly, I’d like see what percentage of these injuries are white males. My experience is that a lot of white males take their sense of privilege and entitlement wherever they go and however they go there, and it gets them into accidents no matter how they travel be it scooters or cars.

    I think user profiles may significantly effect the accident rates. We tend to focus on the technology, i.e. how dangerous are scooters or bicycles, rather than whether or not users are using them safely.

    User profiles can dramatically influence accident probability. For instance the fact that 16% of scooter cyclists experience head injuries does NOT mean that all cyclist have a 16% chance of head injury. We can’t use simplistic analysis to make safety policy… although we know it can sell a LOT of helmets.

  6. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/14/2020 - 09:23 am.

    Did you know that motor vehicle fatality rates in 1900 were more than 25X higher per 100,000 registered motor vehicles than they were in 2007? That might be a bit inflated considering that it’s more than possible that many vehicles might not have been registered in 1900. Still, the reason for it was that the technology was new and using the technology was new. We didn’t ban cars because they were incredibly dangerous (maybe unfortunately, honestly). Instead, we required them to be safer and more reliable and we required users to know how to use them. As annoying as the e-scooters are, the approach should be the same.

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