First study of e-scooter ER visits reveals exactly how riders (and walkers) get hurt

The first-ever study on the public health impact of e-scooters reveals how and why the devices send riders and non-riders to emergency rooms, according to researchers.

University of California Los Angeles experts discovered that — of nearly 250 patients who went to L.A. area emergency rooms during a one-year period with electric scooter-related injuries — only 4.4 percent were definitely wearing helmets and 8.4 percent weren’t even riding the scooters themselves, according to the study published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“There are thousands of riders now using these scooters, so it’s more important than ever to understand their impact on public health,” Dr. Tarak Trivedi, the study’s lead author and an emergency doctor at the school’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a statement.

But are e-scooters any more dangerous than riding a bike or walking? Researchers looked at how many bicycle injuries and pedestrian injuries sent people to the two emergency rooms over the same period, and found 195 biking visits and 181 for walkers — far fewer than the 249 ER visits associated with scooters, according to the study.

The scooters can hit speeds up to 15 miles per hour — and while companies recommend riders strap on a helmet and be over 18, those recommendations are often ignored, the authors said.

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Researchers saw firsthand that helmet use is rare: They watched e-scooter riders zip around Los Angeles for seven hours in September 2018 and found that 94 percent of the 193 riders they spotted was helmetless.

Researchers said their findings mean “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.”

Restricting the study to just Southern California was, in some ways, to the study’s benefit. Though the e-scooters now dot sidewalks in dozens of cities in the United States and abroad, they first popped up in the Los Angeles area in 2017, researchers said.

“We have the unique ability to describe injuries associated with electric scooters that were severe enough to trigger an emergency department (ED) visit,” UCLA researchers wrote.

But leaders from e-scooter companies, which have deployed the rentable dockless devices by the thousands, described the study as flawed.

Paul Steely White, safety policy director for e-scooter start-up Bird, said in a statement that the study “fails to put e-scooter injuries into context as they relate to the high number and severity of injuries and deaths caused by motorcycles and automobiles,” ABC reports.

“We hope to have the opportunity to work with the report’s authors so that we can have a productive and collaborative conversation that focuses on proven preventative measures and education,” White said, according to ABC.

Representatives from Lime, another major e-scooter company, said in a statement that safety is its “number one priority” and that “continued government investment in protected bike lanes and paths is critical,” the Washington Post reports.

Roughly 30 percent of the people with scooter injuries taken to the two emergency rooms from September 2017 to 2018 came by ambulance — “an indication of the severity of their injuries,” researchers said. UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were the two hospitals studied.

Falls were responsible for the vast majority of the injuries — around 80 percent, according to researchers. Next most common was a collision with an object, which caused 11 percent of injuries, followed by “being struck by a moving vehicle such as a car, bicycle or other scooter,” which triggered 9 percent of ER visits, researchers said.

The non-riders who got hurt included walkers who tripped on a discarded scooter and people hit by someone riding a scooter. Doctors judged 5 percent of the people with scooter injuries to be drunk, or to have blood alcohol content above 0.05 percent, the study found.

Head injuries were most common, resulting in 40 percent of ER visits, followed by fractures at 32 percent and cuts, bruises or sprains at 28 percent.

Of the 249 people brought to the L.A. emergency rooms over the year-long period, 15 were ultimately admitted to a hospital — and two of those had to be put in intensive care, researchers said. Researchers decided not to include 74 possibly scooter-related ER visits in the study because they “lacked sufficient documentation.”

The authors said scooters are particularly important to study because they’re so common in many cities.

Dr. Joann Elmore, a professor of medicine at UCLA and the study’s senior author said in a statement that “unlike Segway transporters, standing electric scooters will have a substantial impact on public health given their low cost, popularity and broad accessibility.”

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