Over the last few years electric scooters seem to have popped up in most metropolitan areas of the US and the rest of the world. People use them for various purposes such as daily commute to work, leisure, and an overall low-cost, relatively eco-friendly mode of transportation from Point A to Point B.
Based on the limited statistical data currently available, electric-scooter use is associated with a significantly higher risk of injury “per mile traveled” than car or airplane transportation.
While e-scooters seem to have become permanent fixtures of the city landscape, the pedestrians, drivers and cities themselves have not had the time to accommodate to the novel mode of transportation.
Pedestrians are simply not used to having people zipping through on the sidewalks, making accidents more likely.
Car drivers are well aware of other vehicles on the road, but something as tiny as an electric scooter may still get missed, especially if it’s travelling at an increased rate of speed.
For years the city infrastructure, as well as the traffic laws, have been designed with cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians in mind. There were no plans for electric scooters, because they simply did not exist.
As a result we are at a time where electric scooter use is largely unregulated and the infrastructure is lacking. Depending on what city and state you live in, it may not be entirely clear where exactly an e-scooter can ride. A sidewalk? Bike lane? Car lane? This lack of clear rules of the road for e-scooters is one of the main safety hazards associated with their use today. No doubt this will change, but it may take a few long years and many injured riders and pedestrians along the way until electric scooters have clear traffic laws and city infrastructure to go with it.
What makes electric scooters less safe?
There are numerous reasons that make travel on an electric scooter less safe. The main factors, include:
- Scooter riders appear to have shun the use of helmets. The vast majority of reported accidents involved a rider not using a safety helmet.
- Scooters by the virtue of their design do not offer any safety in case of an accident. Unlike cars, scooters do not have crumple zones, numbers or any meaningful for of protection.
- Lack of infrastructure. As mentioned earlier, the cities are not prepared for the new mode of transportation.
- Lack of rules of traffic. Currently, only a limited number of metropolitan areas have issued rules of the road for micro mobility vehicles. Without clear and thorough traffic regulations, scooter riders will remain in a relative state of chaos when riding the streets or sidewalks.
Electric scooter crash statistics
A University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study published in January 2019 in the JAMA Network Open analyzed the data from two emergency rooms over a period of one year (September 2017-August 2018). The researchers looked specifically for injuries involving electric scooters.
Here’s what the study found:
- Total of 249 injuries involving e-scooters were reported. 228 (91.6%) injuries involved scooter riders and 21 (8.9%) involved the pedestrians.
- 80.2% scooter riders got injured by falling
- 11.0% collided with an unspecified object
- 8.8% were hit by a moving object or a vehicle
- Nearly 5% cases were associated with intoxication
Breakdown of specific injuries:
- Bone fractures 40%
- Head injury nearly 32%
- Cuts, sprains and bruises 27.7%
- Overall, head injuries and fractures were the most common diagnosis
A surprising and mind-boggling finding is that…
“Only 4.4% of scooter riders wore a helmet at time of accident”Source: JAMA Network Open
Another study out of Austin, TX organized by the Austin Public Health Department (APH) in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated e-scooter related injuries reported by the Austin Emergency Medical Services and 9 area hospital Emergency Departments. The study lasted from September 5 through November 30, 2018.
Here are the findings:
- 936,110 electric scooter trips were taken
- 182,333 hours of electric scooter use was reported
- 891,121 miles traveled
- 130 confirmed electric scooter-related injuries were reported
- <1% wore a helmet at time of injury
- 29% involved first-time riders
- 20% of victims required hospitalization
- 18% of crashes involved another motor vehicle
I’ve analyzed the data from these two studies focusing on electric scooters and looked up more traffic crash statistics involving other modes of transportation. Here’s what I found:
- Electric scooters: 145.9 collisions per one million miles
- Passenger cars: 6 accidents per one million miles traveled (based on a statistical 1 accident per 165,000 miles).
- Trucks: 2.29 crashes per one million miles traveled (based on 1 crash every 436,000 miles according to NHTSA).
- Tesla (on autopilot): 1 accident per 3.34 million miles traveled (source: Tesla)
Based on this comparison data, the risk of accident while riding an electric scooter is staggering. However, these are just raw numbers describing the number of crashes. This data does not say anything about the extent of injury. It can only be assumed that cars and trucks, which travel at much higher speeds than electric scooters, are associated with more extensive injury despite all the safety features being present in them.
Given the limited data currently available, it is nearly impossible to come up with a direct comparison of fatality rates between the different modes of transportation, including electric scooters.
Although single reports of deaths resulting from eScooter crashes worldwide have surfaced, it is still impossible to convert this data into any form of a dependable statistic. Largely because much of the distance travelled by private (non-rental) eScooters is not logged anywhere. Without this number, it is impossible to come up with a dependable “crashes per miles travelled” ratio.
- Bicycles: 783 fatalities in 2017, roughly 2% of all traffic-related fatalities (source: NHTSA)
- Cars: 11.3 deaths per billion vehicle miles in the USA. Roughly 40,000 deaths from car crashes in US annually
- Planes: 0.2 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles
Are Electric Scooters Safe? The Verdict
Quite frankly, these statistics should be taken with a little grain of salt. I am saying that for a number of reasons.
First of all, the number of studies that focus on e-scooters is very limited. So far we only have data from two studies, both of which were relatively short and with a small number of study subjects (e-scooter riders). In the next 5 to 10 years there will surely be more studies done to improve the overall quality of data.
Second issue is that we simply can’t compare the number of crashes or injuries associated with cars and then take the same model and apply to electric scooters. There are too many confounding factors that will disturb the truth. For example, most people who drive cars, own them and have been driving the same car for a few years. They will be less likely to get involved in a collision than someone who has just been riding their vehicle (an e-scooter) for the past 10 minutes and getting the feel of it, as is commonly the case with rentable electric scooters. It is the rental companies, such as Bird and Lime that made e-scooters popular. As a result, a huge number of e-scooter user base are riders who rent them, many of them for the first time. Going with the same train of thought, further studies should not be limited to rental e-scooters, but should also include private e-scooter owners who use their vehicles regularly and are quite used to maneuvering them.
Another factor that will disturb the truth from reality is the fact that cars have well designed rules of the road and road infrastructure already in place. Electric scooters on the other hand have none of that. There is still much confusion as to where exactly an electric scooter can ride. There is much variability between the local city ordinances (if they even exist at all), that makes e-scooter riding less safe.
Here is an example of just how important traffic laws and road infrastructure are at helping minimize the rate of rider injuries. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health compared the number of serious bicycle injuries in Germany and the United States. The difference is staggering! According to the data provided by the study, 207 serious cyclist injuries occur per 100 million kilometres travelled in the United States. In Germany that rate is only 44 injuries per 100 million kilometres travelled. In other words, you are 5 times more likely to sustain serious injury while riding a bicycle in the US, than you are in Germany.
Researchers suggest two possible explanations for these findings. Number one, Germany has one of the best bicycle road infrastructures in the world. There are countless separate and well-marked bike lanes in the cities and the outlying areas. Number two, traffic education in schools is being provided by most northern European countries. In some locations it is even mandatory. As a result, riders are better prepared to use the road alongside cars and you are less likely to see a bicyclist riding on the opposite side of the road against the traffic, as is the case in about 10% of US-based bicyclists.
If you live in an area where traffic laws for e-scooters have already been established, the road infrastructure has been adapted to electric scooter use and you as a rider are wearing your protective gear and following the common sense, then your chance of getting injured is nowhere near the predictions of injury suggested by the statistical data currently available.
E-scooter Riding Safety tips
Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, even roller blades can be dangerous if used improperly and haphazardly. Electric scooters are no different. They can certainly be dangerous, but we (electric scooter riders) can minimize the risk of accident and injury by following some common sense ideas.
- Stop treating them like toys. E-scooters may resemble fun toys, but they’re actually relatively fast electric vehicles, that also happen to be fun to ride.
- Wear protective gear. Helmet, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads. that also happen to be fun to ride. Current data shows that only 4.4% of e-scooter riders wear a helmet. The percentage of those wearing full protective gear (wrist guards, elbow/knee pads) is likely to be significantly lower than that.
- Wear well-fitting shoes with closed-toes. Avoid sandals and flip-flops as you won’t be able to maintain a safe grip with the base of your e-scooter.
- If this is your first time riding an e-scooter, you are at increased risk of getting into a crash. Take your time to familiarize yourself with your new eScooter. Locate the brakes, test them. Get a feel of the scooter’s acceleration and maneuverability.
- Always watch for traffic around you. Intersection, pedestrian and bike crossings, switching lanes on sidewalks and bike lanes.
- Pedestrians first. Always yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk. (Note: in some metropolitan areas it is illegal to ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk).
- Slow down when going downhill. E-scooters can pick up the speed quite fast, by the time you have realised how fast you were going it may be too late.
- Use bike lanes if your city allows their use by e-scooters. Check Google Maps Bike Lanes to plan your route.
- No matter how tempting it is, you should never ride your e-scooter in car lanes. Just don’t do it. (Note: some metropolitan areas may require you to ride in car lanes. In this case, you have no choice, but to use extra caution and ride with the car traffic).
- No headphones while riding.
- Never ride your scooter one-handed.
- Do not exceed the posted speed limit or ride faster than reasonable for the given infrastructure and weather conditions.
- Be extra careful when riding in rain. Don’t ride in rain if you don’t have to. If you absolutely must, go slowly. The road is slippery, your tires are small, meaning there’s little friction. Your chance of skidding is very high.
- Never operate your electric scooter under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Never attach an electric scooter to another moving vehicle.
- Never ride your scooter with extra passengers. Most eScooters have been designed for single-person use.
- If you’re a Bird or Lime user, or any other dockless e-scooter rental company, watch where you park your e-scooter. Be mindful of pedestrians and other riders. In general, your device should not be obstructing the public rights-of-way. It is a bad idea to park in the middle of the sidewalk or other areas where people can trip over it. Santa Monica City Council approved an ordinance targeted at improperly parked e-scooters.
- Changing lanes, yes lanes. Be mindful when changing lane on the sidewalk or bike lane. I personally know people who crashed their e-scooter because they happened to slightly change their lane only to get hit from the rear by an approaching bicycle or an electric scooter.
When buying an electric scooter look for the label UL2272. If present, it ensures that the safety of e-scooter’s electrical system has been tested. This includes the electric motor, battery and charger.
90% of bicycle riders wear helmets when riding their personal bikes. Only 20% do so when riding a rented bicycle. This suggests that helmet use by e-scooter riders could be so incredibly low due to the fact that many riders rent e-scooters.
The statistics regarding electric scooter injury rates provided by the two relatively limited studies published so far, may seem somewhat discouraging. Undoubtedly this statistical data should be considered by anyone who is thinking of jumping on the e-scooter bandwagon and becoming a rider, as well as those who are already riding one of the millions of e-scooters available today.
However, it is estimated that a mere 4.4% e-scooter riders wear a helmet and the rate of full protective gear use is likely to be well below 1%. Given that the vast majority of e-scooter injuries involve bone fractures (40%) and head injury (32%), it’s easy to predict that a regular use of protective gear while riding an e-scooter will significantly decrease the risk of injury.
Additionally, city ordinances and traffic laws are being developed by multiple city councils to improve rider and pedestrian safety. Once they are in place, they should help reduce the number of e-scooter-related injuries even more. Until then, we are left with the undisputed leader in injury prevention – the common sense.