If you live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington DC, you may have noticed that a new toy has overtaken the streets and sidewalks.
Popular in pedestrian-heavy cities, motorized scooters are the latest fad to hit the microtransit movement, referring to the recent growth of small-scale, on-demand, and alternative urban transportation services.
However, their popularity isn’t the only thing on the rise. According to a recent report by the emergency department at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai, the number of scooter-related injuries has skyrocketed in the past several months as more and more patients are seeking treatment for head, wrist, elbow, and hip injuries caused by scooter use.
The appeal of the electric scooter
It’s no wonder that city dwellers have fallen for these motorized scooters. They’re fun, ubiquitous, easy to operate — and they’re super cheap. Most vehicles cost $1 to be unlocked, then run about 10 to 15 cents per minute.
All you have to do is download an app to locate the nearest scooter and unlock it for use. The best part: Once riders reach their destination, they simply log out with the app and leave the scooter wherever they please.
The scooter-sharing business is comparable to the shared bike systems popular in major cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, with a few key differences.
For one, e-scooters are motorized and can reach a speed of 15 miles per hour. You have to pedal to get somewhere on a bike, but with an e-scooter you simply press a throttle button and off you go.
Unlike bike-sharing companies, most of the shareable scooters are dockless, meaning users can leave them anywhere. As a result, people are dumping scooters all over the place, creating obstacles and safety hazards for drivers and pedestrians alike.
They’re no safer than a moped
Some medical experts claim that the motorized scooters are just as dangerous as riding a moped, if not more.
“Drivers can’t see them very well because of their low profile and small size,” Dr. Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon with Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates, told Healthline. “They creep up along cars on the shoulder, preferring this to taking their place in the line of traffic. They don’t make much noise, so they often surprise drivers.”
According to Bergin, many riders don’t take scooters as seriously as they do cars and motorcycles. The small vehicles move more slowly and, therefore, can seem cute and innocuous.
Not to mention, you don’t need a license to ride them, so many riders are uneducated about the rules of the road.
This isn’t the first time scooters have caused an uptick in emergency room visits. When they first became popular as a children’s toy back in the early 2000s, physicians saw a 40 percent spike in injury rates — consisting mostly of minor abrasions, cuts, and bruises.
However, now that the scooters are motorized and adults are using them to zip around town or quicken their commutes, physicians are seeing more serious injuries, such as concussions, skull fractures, and broken bones.
Always, always wear a helmet
According to the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Department, scooter riders typically don’t wear any protective equipment, which significantly increases the risk for more serious injuries if they fall off the scooter while riding alongside traffic or pedestrians. In addition, many are riding with earbuds in, making them oblivious to their surroundings.
Needless to say, emergency medicine physicians are urging riders to appropriately protect themselves with protective gear — such as helmets, kneepads, elbow pads, and bright clothing — and minimize distractions. The last thing riders should be doing while on a scooter is texting or listening to music.
“I always recommend wearing a helmet when we’re riding any sort of bike or scooter as this can significantly reduce the amount of injury sustained in the event of a crash,” Dr. Edgar Petras, an emergency medicine physician at Indiana University Health, said.
Petras also recommended sticking to areas that are safe and permitted by law, such as bike lanes, and keeping an eye out for turning vehicles or pedestrians that may not be aware of the scooters.
Most importantly, follow the rules of the road
Sure, scooters may be an appealing new way to zip around a busy city, but as the micromobility trend grows in popularity, riders need to learn and understand the rules and risks associated with operating electric scooters in high-traffic environments.
Stay in bike lanes, don’t block public pathways, and always wear a helmet. As long as riders safely and carefully follow the laws of the road, shareable scooters may very well change the way thousands of people quickly and efficiently get from point A to point B.
According to Petras, the rise in injuries may very well be directly proportional to their wide availability, which doesn’t necessarily mean that scooters are inherently dangerous.
“If you follow safety guidelines and wear the appropriate protective equipment, I think they can be a great thing for increasing connectivity across an inner city,” added Petras, “and [they] can be used safely and with great effect.”