Hundreds Of ER Records Show Most Injured Scooter Riders Weren't Wearing Helmets

A couple rides a shared electric scooter in Santa Monica, California, on July 13, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ryan Fonseca and Meghan McCarty Carino

Broken bones, dislocated joints and bleeding in the skull were among the more severe cases documented in a new study looking at electric scooter-related injuries in Southern California.

The investigation by UCLA researchers, published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined emergency room visits at two hospitals associated with the university — Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center-Santa Monica.

During a year of study, doctors identified 249 people who were admitted for scooter-related injuries. They did this by looking through medical records and identifying any that contained notes with the word "scooter," or that mentioned Bird or Lime — the top two operators in the market.

The study found "helmet use was low and a significant subset of injuries" were documented in patients under 18, which is the legal age required by scooter operators to ride.

Researchers also studied scooter riders' habits by observing a pair of "busy intersections" in Sept. 2018 — one in downtown Santa Monica, the other near UCLA's campus.

The vast majority of riders (94 percent) didn't wear helmets, which were required under California law during the period of study, though they no longer are. Nearly 8 percent were riding with a passenger, which is a violation of the vehicles terms of use (and local law). More than a quarter of the observed riders were seen zipping along on the sidewalk, which is also prohibited.

Here are a few more key findings:

  • More than 90 percent of those injured were riders
  • About 8 percent were pedestrians — "11 hit by a scooter, (five) tripped over a parked scooter, and (five) were attempting to lift or carry a scooter not in use"
  • Head injuries were the most common (40 percent), followed by fractures (nearly 32 percent)
  • Only 10 of the 228 injured scooter riders were documented wearing a helmet
  • The most common way injuries happened was falling (80 percent), followed by collision with an object (11 percent). Nearly nine percent were hit by a moving vehicle or object
  • The ages of those injured ranged from 8 to 89
  • Nearly 11 percent of patients were under 18
  • Twelve of the injured people were drunk
  • The majority of injured were male (58 percent)
  • More than 55 percent of the ER visits happened during the late afternoon and evening hours, between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Researchers said it was likely they'd underestimated the number of scooter injuries, due in part to not counting any hurt riders who went to urgent care or primary care physicians.

"Additionally, scooter use and availability rapidly increased toward the end of our study period, evidenced by the fact that most associated injuries occurred during the later months of the study," the doctors wrote.


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The researchers say the results suggest the self-enforced regulations of the private companies, such as age limits, may not be sufficient, requiring further regulation and enforcement on the part of government.

They also hope to look further at how aspects of the built environment, such as the presence of bike lanes or established speed limits, affect injury crashes. Scooters are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk, but they are also not permitted to ride in the street with car traffic unless the speed limit is lower than 25 miles per hour or there is a bike lane.

In a statement, Lime spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said safety is the company's top priority and pointed to several initiatives they'd launched, including investing more than $3 million in a rider education campaign.

"We're also working with local governments around the world to support infrastructure for shared scooters and bikes," she said. "We believe continued government investment in protected bike lanes and paths is critical."

Lime also supports the American Medical Association's recommendation to improve helmet design and has given out 250,000 free helmets worldwide, according to Pruitt.

Requests for comment from Bird regarding the study and their safety initiatives were not answered, though the company's website does say they deliver free helmets upon request (riders are on the hook for shipping costs).

It's not clear from the scope of the research if scooter riders are more prone to injury than other street users, like pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

According to the L.A. Department of Transportation, an average of 30,000 car crashes occur each year in the city, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than a thousand. While people walking and biking are involved in only 14 percent of all car collisions, they account for almost half of the deaths recorded.