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Study shows sharp rise in e-scooter injuries since 2017

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

scooter
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.
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.