New research from UC San Francisco has confirmed what has long seemed obvious: Widely available electric scooters (you know, those rentable dockless vehicles carelessly dumped on every corner in major cities) are millennial death traps. The study, which was published in JAMA Surgery on Tuesday, looked at health data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and determined there’s been a major surge in injuries and visits to the emergency room due to e-scooters made by brands like Bird and Lime.
Between 2014 and 2018, there were nearly 40,000 scooter-related injuries, about a third of which involved head trauma, according to the report. Fractures, contusions, and lacerations were high on the list as well, making up 27 percent, 23 percent, and 14 percent of the injuries, respectively. Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 had it the worst, seeing a 185 percent spike in scooter-related injuries and a 354 percent increase in hospital admissions.
Another study in 2019 found that only two percent of the injured riders studied were wearing a helmet at the time of their injury. There’s also evidence that most scooter riders who got into accidents were either drinking or on drugs: That same study found that 48 percent of injured riders tested for alcohol use were way above the legal limit, while about 52 percent of those tested for drug use were using a substance, mainly marijuana.
Getting on an e-scooter is incredibly easy—you see it on the street, unlock it via an app, and zip away—so it’s really not a huge shock people are riding under the influence or without protective gear. Most cities have few regulations for e-scooter riders: Many require users to wear a helmet, ride on roads and not sidewalks, have their driver’s license, and be at least 18 years old. Of course, not everyone’s been abiding by these rules (hence the doubling in scooter trauma we saw between 2017 and 2018). While certain places, including California, quickly adopted strict regulations against riding under the influence, many others—like Alabama—are still working out if and how to penalize people caught riding drunk.
Some cities, including Nashville, TN and Washington, D.C., have proposed banning the scooters, at least during certain hours, but no legislation has been approved yet. The researchers hope to see a crackdown on safety regulations, or, at the very least, have the e-scooter companies provide helmets—which brings us to the misguided "Helmet Selfie" campaign Bird launched at the end of 2019. The campaign hopes to boost rider safety by encouraging people to post photos of themselves while riding with a helmet (with #BirdHelmetSelfie) for a shot at a reward, like a future ride credit, in order to boost awareness of… helmets. Surely, this is not going to be enough to inspire people to wear helmets if they aren't already, or to not ride if they don't have a helmet, especially if they're wasted or high. That will require the actual enforcement of new regulations that, despite the startling surge in traumatic injuries, we just don’t have yet. Until then, beware drunk people on scooters, especially if you're one of them.
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