Lime notified the city of Santa Monica last month that it would permanently cease operations. (File photo)

A UCLA study released Friday has categorized the injuries of scooter riders during the explosive growth of the industry and  found that e-scooter riders are most likely to be hospitalized for head injuries and broken bones.

The study surveyed Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center-Santa Monica from September 2017 to August 2018 and recorded 249 patients who visited the emergency room with injuries associated with e-scooter use. The eight researchers who conducted the study are the first to collect and analyze such data.

Of the individuals treated at the hospitals, 40 percent of patients received head injuries and about one-third broke a bone. Bruises, sprains and cuts accounted for 28 percent of injuries. Just 15 patients stayed overnight in the hospital, two of which were admitted to the intensive care unit for brain hemorrhages.

Most injuries occurred during the later months of the study as scooter use increased and about 92 percent of patients were riders. Of the 21 non-riders recorded in the study, 11 were hit by a scooter, five tripped over a parked scooter and five were injured trying to lift a scooter.

Of riders, 80 percent fell off their scooters, 11 percent collided with an object and about nine percent were hit by a vehicle.

Only about four percent of riders were wearing a helmet when they were injured, and 11 percent were younger than 18 years old. 61 percent of patients were between 18 and 40 and 58 percent were male. Five percent were intoxicated.

The study likely underestimated the number of scooter-associated injuries, the authors said, because it excluded 74 emergency room visits where it was suspected, but not clear, that an scooter was involved. The study also did not include visits to urgent care or primary care clinics for minor injuries.

The study authors identified 195 emergency room visits for bicyclist injuries and 181 for pedestrian injuries over the same time period, but lead author and emergency physician Tarak Trivedi said researchers cannot compare the injury rates between scooter riders, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

“We don’t know the number of miles ridden. If scooters rode 5 million miles and bikers rode 30 million miles, the comparison is not accurate,” Trivedi said. “We suspect they’re no more dangerous than bikes, but we’re seeing so many injuries because so many people have been using them.”

Santa Monica allows companies to operate about 2,000 scooters in the City. Recent data gathered from the pilot program concluded each scooter had about two rides per day.

According to the California Highway Patrol, there were at least 944 vehicle accidents reported in Santa Monica during 2018. CHP data has a seven month lag and will be updated as the year progresses but based on their initial 2018 data, cars hit 93 pedestrians (five fatalities and 86 injuries), 478 other cars (243 injuries), 179 parked cars (26 injuries), four trains (one injury), 86 bicycles (one fatality and 81 injuries), 79 fixed objects (18 injuries) and 15 “other” items (five injuries).

Trivedi said he rides scooters himself and the study is not intended to vilify scooter companies.

“While there’s a risk of injury, there’s also a risk of injury as a bicyclist or pedestrian,” he said. “These companies are serving an important role in society by providing this micro-mobility option.”

However, the study does present some troubling trends, Trivedi said.

“It’s horrifying that so many people are riding vehicles that can reach speeds of 15 miles per hour without helmets,” he said. “Riders need to be aware and extremely careful and treat these things as you would any form of transportation with the potential to cause injury.”

In addition, Trivedi said, riders should be aware that scooters can have faulty brakes or stability issues.

Future work is necessary to determine risk factors for injury and costs incurred by patients and healthcare providers, according to the study.

The study authors said their work is intended to inform public policy around scooters, which could mean promoting bike lanes, enforcing stricter regulations on the use of scooters by minors or new helmet laws.

“While riders of electric scooters in California are required to be at least 16 years old by state law and 18 years old by company rental agreements, we found that 10.8 percent of electric scooter injuries were in patients younger than 18 years. This suggests that current self-enforced regulations imposed by … companies may be inadequate,” the authors wrote. “A newly passed California law will make helmet use optional for electric scooter riders … it is unclear how this change in policy will affect rider practices and injury patterns.”

Scooter company Lime said they support safety programs.

“At Lime, the safety of our riders and the community is our number one priority. That’s why every day we’re innovating on technology, infrastructure and education to set the standard for micromobility safety,” said the company in a statement. “We’re also working with local governments around the world to support infrastructure for shared scooters and bikes. It’s clear consumers want micromobility infrastructure too; 52.2% of Lime riders ranked a protected bike lane as their number one choice for riding. We believe continued government investment in protected bike lanes and paths is critical.”

The company said it also supports innovation in helmet designs although a study earlier this year faulted scooter companies for not doing enough to promote helmets in their social media marketing. The study found that just six percent of Bird’s Instagram posts featured people wearing helmets or other protective gear.

madeleine@smdp.com

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