E-scooters are proving to be highly harmful, according to recent medical research in the U.S. Cities, law enforcement, public health and physician organisations are calling for education and safety while injured e-scooter riders are seeking legal help.
In the UK, there are calls for a crackdown after the fatality of TV presenter and YouTube star, Emily Hartridge.
Auto Futures’ Lynn Walford rides and almost collides with e-scooters whilst revealing insider knowledge of micro-mobility dangers and law in the U.S.
About a year ago, I went to Santa Monica beach and experienced frightfully unsafe e-scooter behaviour including, riding while intoxicated, riding tandem, riding on the sidewalk and speeding on the beach bike path. I felt so threatened, I decided I would never ride my bike on the beach bike path with e-scooters and because I was afraid of getting injured.
I wasn’t the only person worried about injuries.
“We saw first hand at ACEP 18 in San Diego in the fall of 2018 how easy it is to get hurt on e-scooters,” says Steven Arnoff, spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “That’s why we started our Safe Scoot campaign with PSAs.” The organization is offering video, posters and public service announcements to help educate e-scooter riders.
There have been deaths all over the world due to e-scooter usage and very serious injuries. A study by UCLA medical doctors at Los Angeles’ emergency rooms found frequent injuries included fractures, head injuries, head contusions, sprains, and lacerations while only 4.4% were wearing a helmet. The authors report that the data “suggest low rates of adherence to existing regulations around rider age and low rates of helmet use.”
‘Dockless Electric Scooter-Related Injuries’ an Austin public health study of e-scooter users who were cared for at hospital emergency rooms found:
· Almost half of the injured riders sustained an injury to the head.
· A third of the interviewed riders were injured during their first e-scooter ride.
· 39% were injured between 6pm and 6am.
· Nearly half (48%) were aged 18-29 years.
· The median age was 29 years.
In response to the study, the city of Austin plans to strengthen injury surveillance and increase educational efforts to young people for helmet wearing and maintaining a safe speed.
“A goal of this study was to increase awareness of how to ride an e-scooter safely. Since the publication, we have achieved local, national and even worldwide educational outreach,” says Jen Samp, a spokesperson with the Austin Public Health Department.
The study, ‘Craniofacial injuries related to motorized scooter use: A rising epidemic’, released by Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, reports e-scooter riding is causing three times higher facial and head injuries over the last decade. Two-thirds of the victims in the study were not wearing helmets.
I contacted Lime to get an official response to the Rutgers study.
“At Lime, the safety of our riders and the community is our number one priority. That’s why every day we’re innovating on technology, infrastructure and education to set the standard for micromobility safety. We appreciate the attention on this very important issue, and we look forward to continuing working with the industry, medical community and regulators to create a meaningful ecosystem for this new and evolving technology,” stated Taylor Bennet, spokesperson for Lime.
Malfunctioning e-Scooter Claims & Injuries
Personal injury attorneys, however, are learning of horrifying injuries.
“The e-scooter companies all claim that they care about safety, while I continue to get phone calls from injured e-scooter riders on a daily basis,” says personal injury attorney Catherine Lerer, partner at McGee Lerer & Associates who represents over one hundred e-scooter injury victims. Many of the injuries she is seeing are due to malfunctioning brakes, throttles sticking or the scooter dying mid-ride. She hired a forensic engineer who found that the brakes don’t always work when going down steep hills.
Her advice to e-scooter riders is simple, “You must wear a helmet.” Lerer further warns, when e-scooter riders download the scooter apps, the apps include a user agreement that bars the rider from suing the scooter company for injuries.
If a rider is injured due to the scooter malfunctioning, Lerer advises that the rider keep the scooter for evidence. The e-scooter companies typically claim the scooters were not malfunctioning.
She suggests that before riding e-scooters, riders should be required to take a test to prove they know how to operate them and know the applicable laws.
Lerer has seen fractured wrists appendages legs arms; multiple operations on knees; broken teeth; severe jaw injuries; as well as spinal injuries causing paralysis.
Yikes! Disfigured faces, broken appendages and even paralysis – I don’t think I will ever ride an e-scooter again.
E-Scooters Banned & De-Powered on Beaches
Then I learned that recently the city of Santa Monica, working with Bird, Lime, Lyft and Jump, implemented geo-deactivation zones that reduce the motor speed of the devices down to 0 or 1 MPH in prohibited riding zones including the beach bike path. The companies along with Wheels’ e-bikes have also implemented the technology at Venice Beach.
Maybe I could brave the bike paths on Santa Monica and Venice Beach?
There has been increased education for the riders. The Santa Monica Police Department e-scooter education program started in October of 2017.
“We educate e scooter riders through various means,” says Lieutenant Candice Cobarrubias, We have issued citations for violations to the vehicle and municipal code. Most citations have been issued for riding on the sidewalk and most warnings have been given for riding on the beach bike path. We support riders to know the rules of the road when riding an e-scooter.
Okay, when it’s boiling hot where I live – a trip down to Santa Monica beach for bike ride could be very cool.
While pedaling in the refreshing cool breeze on the Santa Monica and Venice Beach bike paths it was fairly calm. I did see many riders attempting to go to prohibited areas, the e-scooters slowed down and then the riders either got off or the scooters or went back to an allowed road. I did see a few e-scooter riders on the sidewalks.
However, on the way back to my car, while riding my bicycle north in the bike lane on Main Street, a hipster on a Bird scooter came down the lane right south towards me – against the traffic.
“WRONG WAY!” I yelled.
He just missed me, by going into the traffic lane that was travelling in the opposing direction.
I contacted Bird spokesperson Debbie Bass who told me that she couldn’t comment on individual instances, however she said: “We want everyone to drive safely and follow the rules of the road.” She also suggested that Auto Futures cite Bird’s own safety study.
Kyle Kozar, the bike share coordinator for the city of Santa Monica informed me, “E-scooter violations are like other traffic violations. If the police see an illegal u-turn, or a bike or e-scooter violating the law, they will be cited, However, we don’t always have enough police to patrol bad behaviour.”
Kozar confirmed that: “the deactivation of the devices has worked.”
Lt. Cobarrubias suggested that I should have called the Santa Monica Police who would have tried to track the culprit down.
Liability is a Risky Business
My brush with the wrong-way hipster, made me wonder, ‘If he would have hit me who would be liable?’ My car insurance doesn’t cover e-scooters and e-scooter agreements deny liability.
In most cases, e-scooter riders and their victims are not covered in accidents.
“God forbid if something should happen these [mobility] companies are not liable if you did something wrong or get injured,” says Ori Blumenthal, co-founder and CTO of on-demand mobility insure-tech company Voom in Tel Aviv, Israel, one of the top cities for e-scooters use.
When riders sign up with an e-scooter app they wave their liability and injuries may or may not be covered by other insurance
“E-Scooters, e-bikes and micromobility transportation are no longer a gimmick. They’re here to stay. We believe that safety and insurance should go hand and hand,” says Blumenthal.
He says Voom is working on launching on-demand and monthly e-scooter insurance with major carriers. Until then, unfortunately, there is no other solution.