Advice to City Council on Scooters: Hasten Slowly

By On
• In Bellingham,

At the end of last year, I wrote about the city’s blossoming love affair with motorized scooters, AKA, e-scooters. [Yet Another Shiny Thing - Motorized Scooters] In 2020, the city will be considering invitations for contracts to provide scooter rentals for those short jaunts about town. My advice to city hall: hasten slowly.

In my article about more shiny things, I wrote about my experiences with rented scooters while traveling in Paris and Marseille and provided photo evidence of the end result of scooter rentals, i.e., abandoned scooters everywhere. During a recent trip to New Zealand, I again experienced the results of scooter rental companies, pictures of which you can see above. This is a worldwide issue, it seems.

A recent study has disclosed that the injury rate among electric scooter riders is growing rapidly according to an 8 Jan 2020 Guardian article entitled “Electric scooter injuries tripled in one year among US millennials, study finds”.

The vast majority of hospital admissions were in city settings and many of those injuries were serious. One quarter of injuries included a broken bone and one-third of injuries were to the head, double the rate among bicyclists. [Bolding mine] A separate 2019 study found less than 5% of e-scooter riders wear helmets.”

The review letter of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Surgery) (JAMA) referred to in the Guardian article stated:

“There was a dramatic increase in injuries and admissions from 2017 to 2018 associated with e-scooter use. During the study period, a weighted total of 39,113 ... e-scooter injuries occurred in the United States [988 NEISS cases (National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.)] Age-adjusted e-scooter injury incidence per 100,000 significantly increased by 222%, from 6 ... to 19. There was an increase in age-adjusted hospital admission by 365%, from 0.4 ... to 1.8. Thirty-six percent of those injured across the study period were women. Over the study period, urban hospitals received the highest proportion of patients ...compared with rural ... and children’s hospitals ...”

The JAMA letter goes on to say:

“Nearly one-third of patients had a head injury, more than double the rate of head injuries experienced by bicyclists. A 2019 study found 4.8% of injured e-scooter riders wore a helmet, while a multi-institutional case series reported only 2% used helmets. Previous research has demonstrated helmet use is associated with lower risk of head injury. E-scooter companies should facilitate and encourage helmet use by increasing helmet access.”

The trend is toward more injuries and has costs that must be considered by governments that encourage electric scooter use. Scooter use can also dig into Uber and Lyft trips and reduce even further the money made by those caught in the miserable gig economy represented by these companies. In addition, there are questions now being posed about the eco-friendliness of the manufacture of e-scooters. What exactly is the carbon footprint of these devices when you include manufacture, transportation (let’s say from China), battery life, battery disposal, source of electricity for charging, etc.? One might also consider the phone apps that may be offered to connect to one of these scooters. What does the app grab off your phone? How secure is the connection? [Note: People in Bellingham now use the parking app to pay for parking, but I venture to suggest that just about nobody knows details of the contractual arrangement with PayByPhone. But that is yet another story.]

For those who are interested in an excellent overview of scooter issues, there is a 50 minute podcast from PBS radio’s Forum, hosted by Michael Krasny.* You can access the podcast here. The program title, “UCSF Study Examines E-Scooter Injuries” does not do justice to the wide ranging issues that are actually discussed during the program.

*Full disclosure: Michael Krasny is a fellow graduate (Class of ‘61) of Cleveland Heights High School where we attended the same Russian language class - a provocative move in US during the Cold War . I have no connection with him with respect to this broadcast or any of his work with PBS.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]