Injuries Rise From Electric Scooters

March 20, 2019

Q: Those electric scooters that you can rent by the hour have come to our city, and our son, who is almost 18, wants to start riding one to school. My husband thinks it’s OK, but all I see are the different ways he can get hurt. Am I overreacting? A: It may seem like you’re asking a question about transportation, but the rapid spread of motorized scooters has been accompanied by a rising number of injuries to both riders and pedestrians. Here in Los Angeles, we’re at one of the epicenters of the electric scooter phenomenon. That means local emergency rooms and medical practices, ours included, are now seeing a spike in scooter-related injuries, many serious. For anyone not familiar with the concept, several companies now offer electric scooters on a ride-share model. Since last spring, thousands of these rentable scooters have become available in an estimated 90 towns and cities across the country. They have a 15-to-37-mile range on a full charge and can go 15 to 30 mph. All it takes to get started is a credit card, a driver’s license and a smartphone to download the app. Although most companies require riders to be at least 18 years old and to wear a helmet, those rules are mostly self-enforced. Doctors are now treating scooter-related injuries that are typically associated with vehicular collisions. These range from serious scrapes and cuts that require stitches, to broken wrists, ribs, collarbones, shoulders and noses. Riders who ignore the helmet rule risk head trauma that can leave lasting brain damage. Injuries to pedestrians are not uncommon. Several scooter-related deaths have been reported. Electric scooters are so new that the tracking of accidents and injuries has not yet begun at either the state or federal level. Scooter companies, meanwhile, have declined to share their data. Earlier this year, colleagues at UCLA conducted a study into the extent of electric scooter injuries. Among their findings: 80 percent of the injuries they tallied resulted from falls, 11 percent from collisions with objects and 9 percent from collisions with cars, bikes or other scooters. About 40 percent of riders who got hurt suffered head injuries, 32 percent had breaks or fractures, and the rest got away with just cuts, sprains or bruises. When the researchers spent seven hours watching riders at a busy intersection, they found that a stunning 94 percent of riders weren’t wearing helmets. If your son does decide to try electric scooter transportation, please make sure he understands the risks, becomes fully educated about best riding practices, and that he always — and this is non-negotiable — wears a helmet. ASK THE DOCTORS appears every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It is written by Eve Glazier, M.D., and Elizabeth Ko, M.D. Send questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.