The country's top health prevention agency is raising red flags over the rising popularity of electric scooters in a new study published Thursday.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alongside the Public Health and Transportation departments in Austin, Texas, found that there were about 20 injuries for every 100,000 electric scooter trips over a three-month period last year.
E-scooters, also known as dockless electric scooters, have surged in popularity over the past year, with tens of millions of e-scooter trips taken last year. New e-scooter startups have taken root in dozens of cities, and ride-hailing giants including Uber and Lyft have unveiled their own scooter services to compete for a share of the market.
Public health experts have raised concerns about the growing popularity of e-scooters, pointing out that most companies do not offer helmets automatically with scooters, opening up the possibility for head injuries.
The researchers, after speaking to an array of people injured while riding e-scooters in Austin last year, found that almost half of the injured scooter riders had suffered a head injury, with 15 percent experiencing a traumatic brain injury. Less than 1 percent of the riders said they were wearing a helmet when they got into the accident.
According to the researchers, between Sept. 5 and Nov. 30, 2018, there were a total of 936,110 e-scooter trips and 891,121 miles ridden on the e-scooters.
The researchers studied 192 people with with e-scooter-related injuries during the study period. They found 70 percent of riders sustained injuries to their upper limbs — hands, wrists, arms or shoulders — and 55 percent to their lower limbs.
The study noted that it "likely underestimates" the prevalence of e-scooter-related injuries and calls for further research into the topic.
"These injuries may have been preventable," the researchers wrote. "Only one of 190 injured scooter riders was wearing a helmet. Studies have shown that bicycle riders reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by wearing a helmet. Helmet use might also reduce the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of an e-scooter crash."
Laurel Morano, a fellow with the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, on a phone call said the study could help inform injury prevention strategies in the future.
Nearly a third of the injured riders said they drank alcohol before they rode on the scooter, while 37 percent reported that excessive scooter speed led to their injury.
The researchers said their study did not support the "perception" that e-scooter riders are likely to be hit by cars. About 10 percent of injured riders sustained injuries by colliding with an automobile.