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Don't Let Your Electric Scooter Ride End in the ER

ER doctors and orthopaedists urge caution around the new trend of electric scooters like Bird, Lime, and Spin.

As riders flock to electric scooters propped on city sidewalks everywhere, sometimes their trips take them somewhere they didn't want to go: the emergency room.

Electric scooters from companies like Bird, Lime, and Spin have grown increasingly popular around Los Angeles, but the trendy new transportation can lead to injuries. ERs and clinics are seeing concussions and fractured skulls along with broken legs, wrists, elbows, and hips related to the scooters.

Dangerous trend

"We're seeing these injuries daily, and at least once or twice a week we're seeing someone who needs an urgent surgery," says Dr. Natasha Trentacosta, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute who is working on an epidemiological study of electric scooter-related injuries. "These can be life-changing injuries, and they can often be prevented."

"If you fall, you're going to get hurt."

Many riders forget one important fact, says Dr. Sam Torbati, co-chair of Emergency Medicine.

"It's a moving vehicle," he says. "And it's not any safer than riding something like a moped. It goes fairly fast. And if you fall, you're going to get hurt."

A few years ago, when self-balancing scooters or hoverboards were popular, similar injuries turned up, mostly among younger people.

But this new trend has plenty of riders in their 40s and older crashing or falling off the scooters. Dr. Trentacosta says a fair number of people are getting hurt tripping over scooters abandoned in sidewalks and doorways too.

Riding safely

Some cities, like Santa Monica, have made rules about the scooters.

The California Legislature is considering a bill that would set statewide rules. Its provisions ban scooters from being ridden or left on sidewalks and would require them to have brakes. It also calls for helmets, but only for those younger than 18.

The City of Beverly Hills recently passed an ordinance to temporarily ban shared mobility devices like the scooters.

"Everyone really should wear a helmet on these," Dr. Torbati says. "An adult who falls is just as likely to hit their head as a minor."

Scooters, like any motorized vehicle or bike, can be used safely with a little common sense, according to Dr. Torbati:

  • Wear protective gear. In addition to a helmet, that means wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, and close-toed shoes.
  • Start off slowly. The accelerator and braking tabs on the handles can take getting used to.
  • Be mindful of surrounding traffic, especially at intersections.
  • No one-handed rides. Put down the phone and the coffee cup.
  • No headphones or earbuds while operating the scooter.
  • Don't try to operate an electric scooter if you've been drinking alcohol.
  • Be mindful of your safety, and the safety of others. Be alert to pedestrians and other vehicles. Make sure to leave the scooter out of the way of foot traffic, so it doesn't create a tripping hazard.

"It's a fun vehicle," Dr. Torbati says. "Just remember it can go fast and take some steps to protect yourself."