Equilibrium & Sustainability

Los Angeles e-scooter riders have higher injury rate than motorcyclists: study

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The injury rate for electric scooter riders in Los Angeles exceeded the national injury rates for motorcyclists, bicyclists and car passengers, a new study has found.

About 115 injuries per million e-scooter riders occurred in one section of L.A. over the course of six years, in contrast to the national injury rate for motorcyclists of 104 injuries per million trips, according to the study, published in PLOS One on Wednesday.

“There are millions of riders now using these scooters, so it’s more important than ever to understand their impact on public health,” Joann Elmore, senior author and a professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a statement.

“The finding that rates of injuries from e-scooters are similar to rates for motorcycle injuries is startling,” she added.

Elmore and her colleagues found the data particularly alarming because the rising popularity of e-scooters means that the associated risk is only likely to grow. Shareable e-scooters — rented on-demand via smartphone — could soon account for 1 in 10 trips shorter than 5 miles, the authors explained, citing a 2019 McKinsey report.

“The ease of public access to on-demand shareable scooters and safety regulations that are still in their infancy suggest that e-scooter operators, cities and health care providers will continue to see a significant number of injuries each year,” Elmore said.

The study included 1,354 injured patients who were treated at 180 UCLA outpatient clinics and at UCLA Health emergency departments and urgent care centers from January 2014 through May 2020, according to the report.

The launch of shareable e-scooters, which occurred in 2018, showed a dramatic shift in the number of injuries associated with use of this transportation mode. Prior to 2018, there were at most 13 e-scooter injuries each year, while such trauma rose to 595 in 2018 and 672 in 2019, the study found.

Not only were e-scooter riders injured in such accidents, but so too were pedestrians hit by moving e-scooters and others who tripped over parked vehicles, according to the study.

The authors identified 533 patients who had sustained injuries to more than one part of their body, 72 who were admitted to the hospital, 21 who were sent to critical care and two who died from their wounds.

In addition, about a third of victims required substantial follow-up visits and clinical resources — meaning that “the impact of novel e-scooter technology may have been underestimated by early studies of [emergency department] visits alone,” the authors wrote.

Their research methods, which involved a keyword search and a natural language processing algorithm — used to analyze big quantities of language data — enabled the scientists to identify mentions of e-scooter injuries among more than 36 million electronic medical records, according to the study. This included notes for outpatients that could have otherwise remained hidden, they explained.

While Los Angeles e-scooter injury rates were only slightly higher than national motorcycle injury rates — 115 injuries per million trips versus 104 per million motorcycle trips — they far exceeded injuries from other modes of transportation.

Those national averages include 15 injuries per million bicycle trips, 8 per million passenger car trips and 2 per million walking trips, the authors stated, citing data from the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Although the scientists recognized that their data was limited to one specific geographic area, they stressed that their estimate of the number of injuries per million e-scooter trips was “of the same order” as findings in other limited regional studies.

They acknowledged, however, that they were only able to capture data from UCLA Health facilities and did not include people under treatment at other clinics — indicating that injury numbers could really be higher.

“It is important to note that e-scooter injuries may be less severe and less fatal than motorcycle injuries, but we still think our e-scooter injury rate is an underestimate,” first author Kimon Ioannides, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program, said in a statement.

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