"We do think it's really important that these kinds of injuries not be under-measured."
It's not uncommon to see an e-scooter speed past you while walking in downtown Raleigh and Durham. Over the past few years, electric scooter companies have increased and become popular options for people looking to get across town fast and easily.
Their use growing particularly in the summer months, but as riders increase so does the risk for injuries.
"They were just going in the wrong direction, weaving in and out of the lanes and part of me was like, oh, man, I hope I don't see them later in the emergency department," said Dr. Andy Jakubowic, an emergency medicine physician at WakeMed.
Jakubowic or 'Dr. J' is the medical director of the WakeMed Children's Emergency Department. He's familiar with e-scooters both on the road and in the emergency room. He said they often see 1-2 patients with scooter-related injuries a day in the summer. A majority of the injuries they treat are to the arms and legs, but they have seen more severe cases.
"I've seen cases, two young adults who were in Glenwood South and riding the scooter without a helmet and had been drinking and probably making some poor decisions in terms of the how to riding it and had significant head injuries that required hospitalization as well," Jakubowic recalled.
More than 300 scooter crashes have occurred throughout the state since 2018, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). A majority of those crashes occurred in Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham.
The number of incidents statewide is on the rise. Last year 74 crashes were reported to NCDOT; a 40% increase from 2019.
Experts said these numbers still don't reveal the full extent of injuries because many accidents go unreported to police.
WakeMed has treated around 600 patients for 'scooter-related' injuries since 2021.
Nationwide the number of emergency room visits for scooter injuries has tripled between 2017 and 2020, according to data released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission last fall. The Commission also reported 71 deaths in that timeframe related to e-scooters, hoverboards and e-bikes.
Laura Sandt is the interim co-director of UNC's Highway Safety Research Center and has been studying e-scooters globally for years.
"Nobody's really evaluating and studying their programs in terms of safety. And so we try to develop some new tools to help communities actually measure and assess e-scooter-related risks," she explained.
Recently, her team released a study to better understand how users and riders are using these scooters so that communities can better incorporate and regulate them in the future.
Sandt said her team's data found that first-time riders make up 30% of scooter-related hospital injuries nationwide and 90% of injuries were happening off the road and don't involve cars.
"A lot of people aren't hitting cars necessary, but they might be hitting curbs or gutters or a dip in the pavement and that can actually result in some pretty serious injuries," Sandt said.
Despite the injuries, it's unlikely these scooters will be going away, especially as Sandt's research found they are quickly replacing other travel options in cities.
So to decrease the chance of injuries, she said users need to make sure they know how to ride and interact with traffic before kicking off and be extra careful at night.
Communities can also play a part by creating separate bike/scooter lanes and improving data collection regarding injuries.
"If they don't see the data, if they don't see the crashes happening in front of them, then they might prioritize investments in other places where they see more intervention, more things happening," Sandt said. "We do think it's really important that these kinds of injuries not be under-measured and that agencies also have a better way to just document risk."
Many of the mobile scooter apps do have ways for users to submit reports about accidents and injuries but many people don't always report and if they do, that data isn't always shared with the city.
A few other tips, call for riders to opt for a helmet, check for scooter damage before riding, don't hop on if they've been drinking, ride in bike lanes if possible and follow traffic laws.
"From an E.R. perspective, I always think that our care extends beyond the front doors and things like preventing injuries. And this is something that we're going to just see more and more of as it becomes like a regular mode of transportation," said Jakubowic. "I think there's a place for it. I just think that people need to know the risks of it and be as safe as they can while doing it."
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