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Data spotty for electric-scooter-rental injuries, incidents

Renee Fox

The use of rented electric scooters has steadily increased, along with the injuries related to them. Despite the widespread use of the scooters, it appears there is no centralized collection of data tracking the injuries or citations issued involving the devices in Central Ohio, or the state as a whole.

Scooters began making headway into many U.S. cities in 2017, arriving in Columbus in 2018.

Scooter-rental companies like Bird and Lime state fewer than 1/10 of 1% of rides end with an injury requiring a visit to the hospital.

But when someone is injured using them, the injuries can be serious, causing fractions, broken bones, traumatic brain injury and abrasions, most commonly.

While some local hospitals collect their own data on injuries related to the scooters, others do not. State agencies like the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Transportation don’t collect the information. The Ohio State Highway Patrol doesn’t either, categorizing the injuries as pedestrian-involved incidents.

Columbus’ police don’t track scooter-related injuries, or violations. Enforcing traffic laws involving scooter use isn’t a priority for the department, Sgt. Joe Albert said.

“We don’t prioritize any scooter-related enforcement. Officers enforce laws on them when there is a call to respond to regarding scooters, or if they see a violation firsthand and are able to stop the operator,” Albert states in an email.

On the campus of Ohio State University, where many of the scooters in the city are used, police don’t track the information, either.

But, Columbus police ran a keyword search for reports that included the word “scooter.” Since the beginning of 2020, about 650 incidents involving scooters were registered with Columbus police, though that number could be higher, because keyword searches don’t always turn everything up, a police analyst said.

Of those 650 incidents, the most common type of call was for a disturbance, followed by calls that didn’t result in a report. Crashes with injuries came in third at 41 incidents and traffic violation complaints came in fourth at 36.

Reports also included calls about suspicious people, stolen vehicles, hit-skip crashes and street obstructions. Scooters were involved in calls about people with guns, shootings and assaults.

OSU’s Wexner Medical Center doesn’t keep track of injuries they’ve treated involving scooters.

But, the local Mount Carmel system has treated about 50 cases of scooter-related injuries a year since 2019.

In the OhioHealth system, Grant Medical Center treated 36 scooter-related injuries in the most recent fiscal year, which ended in June. That’s 10 more than in the previous year. And at Riverside, they’ve treated 30 people since last June.

Dr. Motao Zhu, an investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a professor at the university, worked on a nationwide study of scooter-related hospital admissions.

He said the study found that crashes with electric scooters involving motor vehicles were more likely to send people to the hospital than crashes not involving vehicles.

“If the e-scooter injury involved a motor vehicle, 15% of them resulted in an admission to the hospital. If the e-scooter injury is without a motor vehicle, only 9% resulted in hospital admission. When a motor vehicle is involved, the mass of the motor vehicle is huge compared to the e-scooter, so riders are more likely to receive a more severe injury,” Zhu said.

Because the data is not collected broadly, the study “Motor vehicle-related electric scooter injuries in the US,” used the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The NEISS database takes data sampled from emergency room visits and uses that information to extrapolate and estimate the total number of related injuries in the U.S.

It's estimated that there were 60,554 scooter-related injuries treated between 2015 and 2019 in U.S. emergency departments.

During the time of the study, nearly 1/5 of the injuries involved collisions with vehicles. Men aged 18 to 39 were most likely to be injured, with men accounting for more than 80% of injuries that resulted in emergency room visits. The study also found Black riders were injured more often than riders of other races.

Zhu said a few things could help reduce the amount of injuries, including information campaigns aimed at men in the most at-risk group, enforcement of traffic laws and riders donning helmets.

And, much like bike riders are safer in a bike lane, scooter users would be too, Zhu said.

“We want to separate the motor vehicles from the scooters so that they don't have a chance to collide with each other,” Zhu said.

An electric scooter reads "No riding on sidewalks".
Renee Fox

Dr. Adam Heringhaus, an emergency physician, and the medical director of the emergency department at Mount Carmel East, said riders should get in the habit of packing a helmet if they know they are going to rent a scooter.

“I would certainly, number 1, be responsible. Be mindful of your environment and your surroundings. Number 2, I would wear a helmet if I rode one of these. You only have one head in your life and you want to protect it, certainly,” Heringhaus said. “The head injuries can be mitigated through things like wearing a helmet, and you don't appreciate the injury and how much it's going to affect you until you or someone you know has something like that. But a head injury can be very detrimental to one's life.”

Heringhaus said studies show less than 5% of riders who are injured were wearing a helmet.

“I think part of the reason is that these are a transient mode of transportation where people are hopping on them and going from one place to another and then getting off. But, you really should be wearing a helmet because it can be rather dangerous with speeds of 15 to 20 miles per hour. That's a fair rate of speed,” Heringhaus said.

While most injuries hurt the person riding the scooter, Heringhaus said “a fair percentage” of those injured were struck by someone else riding the device.

Heringhaus has seen a few broken bones, wrist fractures and some “significant” cases of road rash.

Dr. Zhu said the study he worked on shows there is a need for more comprehensive data collection on this relatively new technology.

“This has become a serious issue. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in e-scooter injuries since early 2018,” he said.

Forms reporting on crashes should have a new box indicating an electric, powered scooter was involved, Zhu said.

Gaziz Koshkimbayev, senior operations manager for Lime, said new technology helps companies make scooters safer.

“Globally, over 99.99% of our rides are completed safely and we are proud to have a similar safety record in Columbus. Koshkimbayev states in an email.

Other efforts from the company include hosting in-person safety training, in-app safety information and informational tags on the vehicles.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.