San Antonio and other cities across the country are currently experiencing the Wild West of e-scooters. The two-wheeled alternative transports that landed in American cities in great numbers last year, exciting some and irritating others, have brought with them impassioned discussion about mobility, urban design, regulation – and safety. They’ve also meant quite a few new injuries coming into San Antonio emergency departments.
First responders and healthcare organizations across the country are struggling to quantify this new group of injuries – there’s not currently a standardized code for e-scooter accidents – but there’s no doubt the numbers are going up.
Control your speed
“Some of these electric scooters can travel at speeds of 25-30 miles per hour,” said Jennifer Northway, University Health System’s director of adult and pediatric injury prevention. “That’s very different from a foot-powered scooter or a hoverboard that might be going 5 or 10 miles per hour.”
“The faster someone is traveling on a device when they have a fall, the higher the likelihood that the injury will be severe,” Ms. Northway said. “That could be anywhere from concussion to some other type of brain injury – we’re not just concerned about broken arms from falling off the scooters.”
Wear a helmet
“If you do the Segway tour you have to wear a helmet. That’s a key question injury we in injury prevention are asking – how are we making sure helmets are used with this device?”
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute recommends wearing a bike helmet while using e-scooters, as does the city ordinance. That may seem hard to incorporate into the spur-of-the-moment nature of jumping on an e-scooter, particularly when traveling (and Northway notes that many downtown e-scooters are visiting from out of town) but folding bike helmets are now available and easy to tuck away.
Don't ride tandem
The e-scooters are not made for multiple riders, and the city’s recent dockless vehicle ordinance forbids passengers. Not everyone is listening.
“Unfortunately, the thing that we are seeing with this device is parents are riding tandem with a child in front of them,” Northway said. She envisions too many opportunities for serious injury in those cases.
Reflective clothing and liquid courage
The city has amended its ordinance to forbid using the e-scooters between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Northway thinks that may cut down on the number of injuries that result from intoxicated e-scooters, but that there’s still plenty of opportunity for mischief between sundown and 11 p.m. Riders may not be very visible if they haven’t planned for the trip and aren’t wearing reflective clothing. And some poorly lighted streets increase the risk of a collision.
“Someone comes out of a bar and says ‘I’ve always wanted to try one of these things’ – that’s liquid courage,” Northway said. “You may not swerve when you need to, you may not stop when you need to. We certainly want to encourage people not to drink and ride.”
Streets v. sidewalks
If there’s a bike lane, the city rules say use it. But all too often there’s not, in which case the city allows the scooters on a sidewalk – but at least two feet from pedestrians and always yielding to them – or on the street, as long as the speed limit is less than 35 miles per hour.
“We’re very concerned about the combination of e-scooters and standard motor vehicle traffic,” Northway said. “In the end, the vehicle’s gonna win, not the person on the Bird.”