Biggest factor in scooter crashes? Speed, study says

Nearly 200 riders were injured in a three-month period after Austin, Texas launched a rental program last year, the study found.

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People using dockless electric scooters.

In just a few days, these dockless electric scooters will be available in Chicago.

File photo

With thousands of electric scooters set to hit the streets of Chicago Saturday, a new study on scooter-related injuries in a city in Texas could give emergency rooms and city officials a good idea of what to expect — and riders pause over scooting too fast.

The three-month study, published by the Department of Public Health in Austin, Texas, found that riders going too fast was the biggest contributing factor to accidents that led to injuries.

Austin launched its scooter program in April 2018. There are now about 14,000 scooters on Austin streets, operated by 10 companies.

The study, published last month, analyzed incident reports from nine area hospitals between Sept. 2 and Nov. 30 of last year. During that time, 192 people were injured, including 160 who were using dockless scooters through the city program and 32 who were possibly riding on privately owned devices. Only two of the injuries involved someone other than the riders themselves — a bicyclist and a pedestrian.

Of those injured, 48% reported a head injury, including fractures, abrasions and lacerations, the study showed. Fifteen percent had evidence suggestive of a traumatic brain injury. Just one of the people injured reported wearing a helmet.

Upper limb injuries of arms, hands, wrists or shoulders were the most common problem, affecting 70% of riders. Almost half of the injuries were severe, with 84% having bone fractures.

Riders seemed honest when saying what caused their injuries: 37% of those surveyed said excessive speed was a contributing factor. The Chicago City Council has passed an ordinance limiting the speed scooters can travel in bike lanes to 15 mph, said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the city Department of Transportation.

Overall, the injuries impacted a small percentage of riders: about 20 people per 1,000 riders were injured.

Jeff Taylor, researcher and manager of the Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit at Austin Public Health, said the study helped clarify perceptions about how Austin residents used scooters.

For example, only 16% of the accidents involved a car or another vehicle — including riders who collided, swerved, or had to jump off a scooter to avoid a collision. Ten percent of people were actually struck by a vehicle.

While no one was killed during the three-month study, a 21-year-old man was hit by a car and killed in February while riding an electric scooter. News accounts said he was riding at 1 a.m. in the wrong direction on Interstate 35 in Austin.

Chicago’s program does not permit scooter use after 10 p.m. and the scooters won’t be allowed on the highway.

Despite their injuries, 38% of riders in Austin said they would get back on a scooter for another ride.

Taylor expects motorized vehicle popularity to grow — he’s even seen motorized unicycles near his office in downtown Austin.

“There are these other modes of transportation that as they get adopted,” he said, “there are going to be injuries. We think there’s going to be some type of surveillance in the long run.”

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