More People Are Riding on E-Scooters, So More People Are Getting Injured

Seen in Paris: People of all ages using e-scooters

It's basic math. Sure, e-scooter injuries are way up. But let's keep it in perspective and look at what the real problem is.

Almost everyone is complaining about e-scooters, with headlines like Engadget's: E-scooter injuries quadrupled in four years. It's all based on a recent paywalled study published in JAMA. The University of California San Francisco, where the research was done, subtitles its post Hospital Admissions Quadrupled in Last Four Years, UCSF Study Finds, Mainly in Young Adults and writes:

The number of scooter-related injuries and hospital admissions in the United States grew by 222 percent between 2014 and 2018 to more than 39,000 injuries, while the number of hospital admissions soared by 365 percent to a total of nearly 3,300, according to the study.
The author of the study is quoted:
E-scooters are a fast and convenient form of transportation and help to lessen traffic congestion, especially in dense, high-traffic areas,” said senior and corresponding author Benjamin N. Breyer, MD, a UCSF Health urologist. “But we’re very concerned about the significant increase in injuries and hospital admissions that we documented, particularly during the last year, and especially with young people, where the proportion of hospital admissions increased 354 percent.
Increase in scooter usage

NACTO via Streetsblog/CC BY 2.0

Now as someone who writes positively about anything that gets people out of cars, I love these scooters and have used them in Europe, where I found them fast and convenient. But my first reaction to all these statistics about the increase in injuries is that they are meaningless because the number of e-scooters on the road went from zero in 2014 when there were no e-scooters for hire. Or as I have pointed out whenever we discuss the number of injuries that come from walking with smart phones, they are a few hundred percent higher than they were in 2006 before the iPhone was launched.

What really matters is the rate, and the study indicates that the rate of injuries went up significantly from 2014, from 6 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 19 per 100,000 in 2018. But there were no for-hire scooters in 2014, just private ones, where the users are going to be much more experienced.

And how bad is this injury rate? It is hard to compare, but according to the NHTSA and various sources, the rate of injuries for pedestrians is between 19 and 27 per 100,000, mostly getting hit by cars, and for bicycles, 11.2. The current rate of death for passengers and drivers of cars is 12.4 per 100,000, which makes them far worse than scooters. And motorcycles? 2,194 per 100,000. You do not want to get on one of those.

So the scooter numbers do not seem totally out of line with other modes of transportation, and again, anything that gets people out of cars is going to make people safer. Let's have some perspective here; as the National Safety Council notes,

Medically consulted injuries in motor vehicle incidents totaled 4.6 million in 2017, and total motor vehicle injury costs were estimated at $433.8 billion. Costs include wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor-vehicle property damage and employer costs.
lloyd on a scooter

Seen in Tempe: Lloyd Alter's first time on a scooter, going very slowly/ Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Also, as Kea Wilson of Streetsblog reminds us, scooter ridership has boomed. Scooter infrastructure hasn’t. Right now, many people on scooters have to share the road with cars, "where drivers believe they are the sole legitimate user."

As Streetsblog has reported countless times, protected bike lanes (or “individual transport lanes,” or “micromobility lanes,” or whatever you want to call them) lead to a drastic decrease in cyclist injuries. E-scooters are still new enough that no dedicated study has yet been performed on whether the same is true for their riders.

There is no way to tell what percentage of these injuries were caused by cars or by the scooter rider falling off, but in New Jersey, they banned scooters after a driver of a truck turned into a kid on a scooter. Who's at fault there?

Atlanta scooter sticker

Seen in Atlanta: lots of lanes and keep off the sidewalk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

When in Atlanta recently, I saw lots of bike lanes and stooge messages for scooter riders about where they can go. They are working hard to add lanes, although I found they were often blocked.

Scooters in Marseille

Seen in Marseille: Scooter mayhem/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But in Marseille I saw scooters abandoned everywhere, scooter riders zipping around pedestrians, general scooter mayhem.

CC BY 2.0. Seen in Lisbon: really rough roads/ Lloyd Alter

Seen in Lisbon: really rough roads/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In Lisbon I found the scooters almost impossible to use because the city is paved with these little marble blocks and they shake your teeth out; it is impossible to ride on and probably easy to lose your balance.

Lime in the sidewalk

Seen in Marseille: Lime in the sidewalk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This leads me to conclude that there is a place for scooters as a transportation alternative, but just like bikes, you need a safe place to ride them and a place to park them which is not the middle of the sidewalk. For instance, in Lisbon you actually couldn't park it and end your ride unless you did it in an authorized location. There are lots of ways to deal with the problems that are turning up; it's new technology. And, if they have a safe, smooth place to ride, I suspect the rate of injury will go down too.

Scooters in paris

Seen in Paris: Scootering to Montmartre/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

We need to welcome all these new ways to get around and figure out how to accommodate them, instead of letting the drivers of cars dictate all the rules of the road; nor should we misuse statistics to scare people off them.