Electric scooters are appearing by the thousands on city streets and sidewalks. Some people advocate for the toy-like EVs as fun, convenient, cheap, and great for reducing pollution. Others, including many pedestrians, aren’t so sure. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented the results of research on public health challenges, including drug-resistant bacterial infections—and electric scooters.
The CDC began studying the public health impacts of electric scooters soon after they appeared on the streets of Austin last year. Local transportation and public health agencies noticed that many people were falling off the vehicles, and requested support to investigate the problem. An
87-day study interviewed more than 100 riders with potential e-scooter-accident-related injuries, and found that 45 percent of the incidents involved head injuries. Among those injuries, 5 percent incurred traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Only 16 percent of incidents involved cars. Fewer than one percent of riders were wearing a helmet.
Many scooter companies first launched their fleets in Santa Monica, California. There, a city study found 249 scooter-related emergency room visits in a year, as compared with 195 bicycle-related ER visits. Some dismissed the study, saying it compared apples and oranges—bikes have been around longer, and are used for longer distances. In Austin, the average scooter trip is less than one mile.
Even before the CDC study was released, Texas legislators had considered legislation to regulate e-scooters statewide, citing them as a danger and a nuisance. In May, the state passed a bill to ban them from the sidewalks and instituted a minimum age requirement of 16. It also prohibits more than one person riding an e-scooter at a time, and establishes guidelines for parking in order to prevent obstruction of roads and sidewalks, acknowledging that riders will choose sidewalks anyway to avoid dangerous road conditions.
Most observers agree that one solution is to find ways to increase safety and prevent injuries. Suggestions include better training and preparation for riding e-scooters safely. According to Jeff Taylor, Austin’s lead epidemiologist, the new technology is unfamiliar to most users, and not everyone looks at the in-app safety guidelines. In any case, Taylor noted, the recent research findings will help scooter companies, health departments, and transportation departments identify ways to prevent injuries. Here’s hoping.
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