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Electric Scooters: Watch Out!

by Jeanine Barone  

In some U.S. cities, people riding rental electric scooters (e-scooters) are increasingly competing with cyclists for space on streets and with people on sidewalks. Riders of the rechargeable two-wheeled scooters often weave around (and sometimes into) pedestrians, and dodge vehicles on traffic-choked streets—and when they finish their rides, leave the dockless scooters just about anywhere.

Such e-scooters have been around for years, but the app-based rental business model has made them an increasing popular. Shared e-scooters by Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, Spin, Jump (from Uber), Lyft, and other companies can be a convenient, inexpensive, non-polluting mode of transportation. But they can also be dangerous, with even a few reported deaths of riders. Because of the newness of the scooter-sharing programs, official data on injuries are limited.

According to Dr. Troy Madsen, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City (where an e-scooter program began in 2017), scooter-related injuries reported in that hospital’s emergency department nearly tripled between 2017 and 2018. Almost half of the injuries were fractures or dislocations involving shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles. Also common were lacerations, sprains, and head injuries.

A study in JAMA Network Open in January looked at data on scooter-related injuries seen in emergency rooms between September 2017 and August 2018 at two UCLA hospitals, not far from Santa Monica, where shared scooters were first available in the U.S. It found that 249 people were treated for scooter-related trauma, mostly fractures and head injuries. More than 10 percent were younger than 18 (though rental agreements forbid such underage use), only about 4 percent had been wearing a helmet, and 5 percent had elevated blood alcohol levels or appeared to be intoxicated.

Because of these risks, and because some companies have brought their e-scooters into areas without asking for permission from the local officials, it’s no wonder that some cities (such as West Hollywood, Nashville, Seattle, and Tucson) have banned or restricted e-scooter programs.

Tips for preventing e-scooter injuries

Here are some tips to reduce the risk of injury—some are similar to advice for cyclists.

  • Wear a bike helmet. Though bike helmets have not been tested for scooter use, they are the best option for now.
  • Also advisable are elbow and knee pads, wrist guards, fingerless bike gloves, and close-toed shoes. Wear brightly colored gear—and reflective gear if you are riding when it’s dark out.
  • Become familiar with the throttle to accelerate (on the right side of the handlebar) and the brake (on the left side) before heading off. It’s best to try out your e-scooter first in a quiet parking lot or side street. Test the brakes by gently squeezing, not jamming them.
  • Accelerate slowly. Don’t accelerate while at a standstill because that could cause the scooter to shoot forward. Instead, stand with just one foot on the scooter, using the other foot to kick off a few times first; then use the throttle to gently accelerate.
  • Hold onto the handlebars with both hands, not one. Don’t carry anything, including a cell phone or a beverage.
  • Don’t wear earbuds or headphones.
  • Don’t ride on sidewalks. Rather, ride in a bike lane, if there is one, watching out for pedestrians crossing the street, doors opening from parked cars, and cars turning into your lane.
  • Keep in mind that drivers may not see you when you ride a scooter. And if they mistake you for a pedestrian, they may underestimate how fast you are traveling, increasing the risk of a collision, especially at intersections. Make eye contact with motorists. If you don’t feel comfortable crossing a busy intersection, get off the scooter and walk it across the street.
  • Watch out for potholes, loose sand or gravel, bumps, rocks, branches, and other obstacles—as well as street grates, in which your wheels could become stuck.
  • Avoid riding in the rain, because of the risk of slipping and sliding, especially on curves.
  • Avoid steep downhills.
  • If you’ve been drinking alcohol or using cannabis, don’t ride an e-scooter.

Also see 12 Tips for Better Cycling.