Drew Howerton was in Austin, Texas, for a Paul McCartney concert in October, when a friend suggested they take electric rental scooters to the show. Howerton made it to the concert — but with nine stitches in his head.
The college student on a budget thought renting a scooter via the app Lime sounded like a good idea. Users are typically charged just 15 cents per minute and you can ditch the two-wheeler when you get to your destination. There were no helmets on site, but Howerton wasn’t too worried since the scooters are limited to 15 miles per hour.
“It never occurred to me that something bad could happen,” Howerton, 19, told TODAY. But things went terribly wrong when he reached a steep hill. “The brake on my scooter started acting up,” he recalled. “I put my foot out to slow myself and went flying."
He knows his injuries could have been much worse.
Electric scooter injuries are on the rise
Stories like Howerton’s are not uncommon these days with the success of scooter sharing companies such as Lime and Bird. In fact, facial and head injuries from micromobility devices have tripled over the last 10 years.
According to a new Rutgers University study, the number of incidents climbed from 2,325 in 2008 to 6,957 in 2018. A staggering 66% of those treated were not wearing helmets.
Dr. Boris Paskhover, who co-authored the report with fellow physician Dr. Amishav Bresler, was not surprised by any of the results. “Visit a city and you’ll see people whizzing by and none of them have protective headgear,” Paskhover said. “That’s what got us thinking about doing a study in the first place.”
A push for scooter safety regulations
As noted in Paskhover and Bresler’s paper, many states have few rules in place for electric scooters. For example, New Jersey recently passed a bill that regulates rideable tech in the same way as bicycles, requiring helmets in only those under 17.
Though, Lime wants riders to know that the company is committed to the safety of its riders. “That’s why every day we’re innovating on technology, infrastructure and education to set the standard for micromobility safety,” a spokesperson for the company told TODAY. “We appreciate the attention on this very important issue, and we look forward to continue working with the industry, medical community and regulators to create a meaningful ecosystem for this new and evolving technology.”
Dr. Ryan Stanton, a board-certified emergency medicine physician in Kentucky, can’t overstate the importance of helmets. “The number one cause of trauma-related death is head injury,” Stanton, a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians explained. “The brain is incredibly sensitive and soft so you need to protect it.”
Recently, Stanton treated a patient who hit an uneven patch of concrete, went over the scooter's handlebars and ended up with significant head contusions. “It was a painful fall and a pretty expensive scooter ride after the ER evaluation,” the physician told TODAY.
Andrew Hardy, an L.A.-based realtor knows what that’s like. He currently owes $400,000 in hospital bills.
Hardy was crossing the street on a Lime rental scooter in December 2018, when a car struck him at 40 miles per hour. The 26-year-old, who was not wearing a helmet, was thrown 15 feet into the air and knocked unconscious. When Hardy woke up, he learned he had two broken legs and a punctured lung. His neck was also broken in three spots. A neurologist told him later that most people with his injury would be paralyzed.
“I’ll be commuting by foot for now,” Hardy said. “I got hit in a crosswalk. You can be following the rules and then end up in an ambulance because someone was texting.” Both Hardy and Howerton have set up GoFundMe pages to help with their medical expenses.
“Drivers are often distracted with cell phones and in a split second, scooter meets car,” Stanton noted. “You know who wins that one every time.”
Stanton suspects the scooter craze will be keeping him busy, at least for a while. According to the National Association of City Transportation, last year riders took 38.5 million trips on rentable scooters across the U.S.
“A couple of years ago it was hoverboards. Now it’s electric scooters,” he explained. “We need to take matters into our own hands and make sure each of our rides is as safe as possible.”
For Stanton, that means wearing shoes with a good grip and practicing in a flat open area before you hit the city streets, as many adults aren't good with balance.
“And you need to put on that helmet,” he told TODAY. “Otherwise, it’s just a recipe for disaster.”