Study: More needs to be done to improve e-scooter safety

Now that electric scooters are on their way back to Birmingham, it's important to understand that you could be injured while using one. Reports have come in of e-scooters that are broken or defective. Incidents have occurred where e-scooter riders have been struck by other vehicles. Just how safe are dockless electronic scooters?

It hardly seems like you could get seriously injured riding an e-scooter around town. The electronic version of a kick-scooter is small, light and close to the ground. The vehicles go a maximum of about 50 mph, but most people don't go much faster than 15 or 20 mph.

Don't be fooled. An e-scooter may seem like a child's toy, but they are meant to be ridden on the street rather than on sidewalks. You could be heading out into traffic with no protection from a tumble -- or a collision with another vehicle -- especially if you're not wearing a helmet.

And most riders around the country aren't wearing helmets, although the major e-scooter rental companies all recommend doing so. This is because helmets are not provided with the scooters, meaning you have to bring your own. Most people choose an e-scooter on the fly without planning ahead, so they don't bring a helmet to wear.

Are people being seriously injured riding electric scooters?

Yes. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study of e-scooter injuries in Austin, Texas. That study found that half of all e-scooter injuries involved head trauma. A Consumer Reports investigation last year found that at least 1,500 e-scooter riders in the U.S. had been injured since the vehicles were introduced -- and at least eight people had been killed.

Now, a new study has been released that indicates e-scooter injuries have skyrocketed over the past couple of years, just as rentals have gone mainstream. The study, which was published in JAMA Surgery, estimates that e-scooter injuries almost doubled between 2017 and 2018.

This jump in injuries prompted the study's authors to call for increased helmet use and other safety improvements.

The JAMA Surgery study considered data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. This data was used to estimate how many injuries, ER visits and hospital admissions were tied to use of e-scooters.

E-scooter rentals exploded around the country in 2017, but they have been around since about 2014. The researchers looked at data from between 2014 and 2018. Between those years, the researchers found 39,100 e-scooter injuries. Of those, 22,667, or about 58%, occurred in 2017 and 2018. At the same time, e-scooter related hospital admissions jumped from 715 in 2017 to 1,274 in 2018.

This may be an undercount, the authors caution. Little data is available specifically on e-scooter injuries. Where it is available, other types of scooters such as mobility scooters and motor-scooters are often included in the data. Where the type of scooter was unclear, the authors did not count the accident.

Lime, one of the leading e-scooter companies, points out that it would be normal for injuries to increase considering how quickly the rental programs have taken off. That may be true, but it's still important to realize that the injuries are not trivial and that they are increasingly common.

If you're looking forward to renting an e-scooter when they return to town this spring, be cautious and bring a helmet. Your health is definitely worth the extra effort.

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