Being Drunk And Helmet-less Is A Recipe For E-Scooter Disaster

Photo: Lewis Joly, AP

The e-scooter craze has been convenient for some, annoying to others, and painful or even deadly to an unlucky few. A new study out Thursday seems to highlight some of the (perhaps obvious) common factors behind e-scooter accidents: being drunk or otherwise intoxicated and not wearing a damn helmet.

Researchers in California — the U.S. state where the trend of companies offering electric scooters as part of a ride-sharing program first began in 2017 — looked at the hospital records of people who visited one of three trauma centres in the San Diego area with injuries related to an e-scooter.

Between September 1, 2017 and October 31, 2018, they found at least 103 patients at these centres had gotten hurt from e-scooters. Most of these injuries involved fractures of their limbs or face, but nearly 20 per cent had internal bleeding in their skull, while slightly less had concussions without bleeding. Thankfully, most injuries were easily treated and nearly 90 per cent were sent home the same day.

When the authors looked deeper into the people who got hurt, they also found some clear patterns. Most (65 per cent) were men; almost all (98 per cent) had not worn a helmet; and they had frequently taken drugs just prior to their injury.

Of the 80 per cent of patients who were tested for alcohol, just under half had a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit for driving (0.08 per cent). Only 62 patients had their urine screened for drugs besides alcohol, but half of that group tested positive for a mind-altering substance — mostly THC but also stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine.

The team’s findings were published Thursday in the journal Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open.

While the study is one of the first to provide a detailed look at who is most at risk of getting hurt from using e-scooters, it does come with some limitations. For one, the authors only studied a small group of people whom medical staff deemed were hurt enough to require care at a trauma centre.

But there are plenty of people who have gotten dinged up by an e-scooter and only received medical attention at an urgent care centre or emergency room. These people might be more or less likely to wear a helmet or to drink-and-scoot, but to what degree we can’t say for sure.

There hasn’t been much if any data on whether wearing a helmet or avoiding drugs while riding an e-scooter could prevent injuries, but it’s not exactly a reach to think that they would.

“[G]iven prior protective effects of helmets with other types of powered and non-powered vehicles, helmet use is likely to have a beneficial effect in this population as well,” the authors wrote.

Making sure that e-scooter users wear helmets is easier than done, though. Some riding services have started to provide free or discounted helmets at the user’s request, the authors noted. But states where these services are legal have often refrained from making them mandatory.

California even enacted a new law this year to change a provision that mandated helmet use by adults riding their e-scooter on bike paths and streets (minors are still required to do so). The law was passed, at least in part, because ride-sharing companies complained that requiring users to wear helmets would have discouraged new customers.

And while some cities and countries have fought with and even banned these services — in the case of Nashville this year, following a scooter-related death — others are embracing them, and the industry as a whole seems to be well on track to expand and thrive in the years to come.

As the authors warn, the more popular these devices become, the more people could undoubtedly get hurt. And the more we need to find ways to keep people safe.

“Early research into the safety and injury patterns of e-scooters is vital to guide the public and legislators on injury prevention strategies for this evolving mode of transportation,” the authors wrote.

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