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Just how dangerous are those electric scooters?

Perhaps you've seen the electric scooters that have been landing on street corners everywhere. Light, sleek and fast, they offer many a convenient alternative to Uber and other forms of downtown transportation. However, they're also dangerous.

There's not yet a national databank for e-scooter accidents like there is for car accidents, but two recent studies have started to explore just how much these vehicles put riders at risk.

At least 1,500 riders sent to the hospital in just one year

Consumer Reports recently published an investigation into scooter-related injuries. The report shed light on a few concerning trends:

  • Hospitals and other medical facilities reported 1,545 scooter-related injuries.
  • Those reported injuries are just the tip of the iceberg. Consumer Reports contacted only 110 hospitals and five other agencies. Of those, only 60 replied. Only 23 had scooter-related data. The others said they had no way to track which injuries were scooter-related.
  • E-scooter riders suffered an estimated 2.2 injuries per 10,000 miles. That was more than four times the number of injuries that motorcycle riders suffered over the same distance. And it meant riders were 22 times more likely to suffer accidents, per mile, than people in cars.
  • Medical staff often said they were concerned by the lack of available helmets.

Indeed, the lack of helmets is a central concern. Consumer Reports noted that people rarely carry helmets with them. They said this was important because people often make the decision to ride a scooter at the last minute.

Electric scooter companies are walking both sides of the helmet issue

Lime and Bird are the two largest e-scooter companies, and they have publicly supported the use of helmets. At the same time, Bird has fought against laws that would make helmets mandatory. And while Bird has tried balancing its interests, JAMA Network Open learned from two emergency rooms that only 4.4% of riders were wearing helmets.

  • While the sample size was admittedly quite small, the report also found that:
  • Head injuries were the most common type of injury, at 40.2% of all reported injuries.
  • 31.7% of all victims suffered fractures.
  • Nearly five percent of the injured riders had been drinking.
  • More than eight percent of all injured victims were pedestrians. They were struck by scooters, or otherwise injured by them.

Finally, e-scooters may strike riders as light, easy and fun, but scooter accidents can be every bit as terrifying as those involving larger machines. According to the Charlotte Observer, the vehicles have already led to nearly three dozen injuries in Charlotte and Raleigh. Three of those accidents involved "incapacitating" injuries.

Do electric scooter companies have legal obligations to their riders?

Corporate statements from Lime and Bird suggest their scooters are part of a brighter future. One that features fewer cars, less congestion and fewer traffic accidents. But people are getting hurt right now-not in the future. And at least one of the companies has actively fought against laws that might make riders safer. When these companies choose to ignore accident statistics or put faulty machines on the road, they put riders and pedestrians at risk. And they may be liable for the injuries people suffer.

As we see more reports about electric scooters and scooter-related accidents, we're sure to see scooter companies forced to defend their decisions. E-scooters may have a place as cheap, convenient transportation, but just what that place will be is likely to depend on the ways the industry leaders respond to safety concerns.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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