Electric scooters like those from Lime, Spin, and Bird are popping up in cities across the United States, offering a fun alternative to bike shares, public transits, and Uber. For a few dollars, riders can grab a scooter, kick off, and go whizzing through city streets at speeds of up to 20 mph and it’s no surprise they’re popular. 

Still, popularity isn’t a good enough reason to opt for a new form of transit, especially if it’s not safe, as seems to be the case with scooters. According to research by Austin Public Health and reported by The Verge, there were about 20 injuries per 100,000 e-scooter trips; about half of those injured suffered head injuries and 15% experienced traumatic brain injuries.

An Epidemic Of Injuries

Twenty injuries per 100,000 trips may seem like relatively few injuries at first glance, but it’s important to put this number in context. While there are about 11 motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 US residents in a given year, this actually only comes out to 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Considering how much shorter most e-scooter trips are and that there are far fewer scooters in circulation than cars, injuries and even fatalities are disproportionately common among e-scooter riders, and many aren’t sure who’s to blame.

Questions Of Liability

While there are certainly reckless scooter riders out there, just as there are reckless drivers, preliminary research and interviews with riders suggests that electric scooters may not actually function well on a consistent basis. In an interview with KXAN, Paul Clough described riding a scooter that came to a sudden stop, throwing him off and leaving home with a broken femur and enormous medical bills. 

Clough would like to see the option to buy into insurance when renting a scooter, but that alone won’t sufficiently address issues of corporate liability, particularly for those with more lasting injuries. Clough’s leg will heal, but those who experience a traumatic brain injury due to a business’s negligence may not be so lucky. Electric scooter companies need to demonstrate that their products are safe and provided additional safety protections, such as helmet rentals or more thorough operating instructions.

A Lasting Impact

For those who experience a traumatic brain injury while performing a recreational activity like riding a scooter, life may never be the same. Unlike many other types of injury that may leave a scar but otherwise heal, traumatic brain injuries can have long-term effects including memory loss, mood swings, language impairment, seizures, paralysis, and an increased risk of neurological conditions later in life. We’ve seen the lasting damage brain injuries can cause to soldiers, football players, and others involved in dangerous, high-impact activities, but riding a scooter shouldn’t cause comparable harms.

E-scooters have already claimed their first fatalities and they mix poorly with conventional vehicles on busy city streets; a significant number of those injured while riding were hit by cars. Despite this fact, it’s the strange cases – the cases in which something seemed to go wrong with the scooter itself that are truly concerning and suggest they should be removed from circulation. That’s what happened to Karen Riggott, age 50, who crashed during her first scooter ride, fracturing her skull. Once at the hospital, her husband found that they were not the only ones there dealing with scooter-related head injuries. He’s now fighting to get the motorized scooters off San Diego’s streets.

High speeds, no helmets, and generally inexperienced riders – most crashes involve those who have taken 9 or fewer rides – are a bad combination and we wouldn’t allow larger vehicles with this kind of danger profile to take to the streets. Cities need to reconsider permitting e-scooter companies to operate on their streets, or they may share in the eventual liability claims.