Dear Doctor: 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?
Dear Reader: 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 of them 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. Emergency medicine departments in some cities, startled by the surge of injuries, have begun keeping their own statistics. An analysis by Consumer Reports found that at least 1,500 people nationwide have been injured in crashes related to electric scooters since late 2017, when the scooters first began to appear. Not all hospitals or law enforcement agencies track scooter accidents yet, so these numbers are certainly low.
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.
Because electric scooters are nimble, affordable and, let’s face it, fun, in many cases they’re being approached more as toys than as motor vehicles. 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.
(Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)