Electric scooter safety: How to avoid injuries while riding
There's so much more you can do besides wear a helmet. Here's how to keep yourself -- and others -- safe.
Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for 15 years. She's written for Glamour, More, Prevention and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in Oakland where she doesn't miss winter at all.
These days, the only thing more prevalent than dockless electric scooters are studies trying to quantify whether these motorized rides are environmentally conscious Uber alternatives or concussion-inducing sidewalk litter.
Just last month, another study dropped in the American Journal of Otolaryngology that found that scooter-related head and face injuries -- including those from electric scooters -- have tripled over the past decade.
The jury's still out on how safe scooters are compared to other forms of transportation, such as cars, bikes and motorcycles, but one thing is clear: Many of the injuries scooting enthusiasts suffer are totally preventable.
Watch this: Electric scooters are sending scores of people to the hospital
"Scooters are super fun and may be a piece of an interconnected public transportation system in the city," says Dr. Beth Ebel, who leads the safe and active transport division at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle. But "helmets and safe spaces to scooter without running into traffic are key."
Helmets protect against a variety of head injuries and wearing one would prevent most scooter injuries, the CDC finds. "The biggest problem, bar none, is failure to use a helmet," says Ebel. "As I discuss with families on the trauma unit, there's having a helmet and using a helmet. We can fix your broken arm or wrist but not your brain."
If you don't already own a helmet, scooter-share companies like Bird and Lime have pledged to give them away to riders. Keep a helmet in your office or clip it to your backpack. If you're turned off by the idea of lugging one around, give collapsible bike helmets a shot.
Problem: Scooting under the influence
Both CDC and UCLA researchers found that drinking may have played a role in the injuries suffered by scooter users. In the CDC study, one-third of respondents acknowledged that they drank alcohol in the 12 hours prior to getting injured.
Solution: Find alternative transportation
Driving a scooter instead of a car isn't necessarily safer -- and yes, you can still get a DUI. "Drinking and scootering puts you (and others) at risk of death or injury," says Ebel. "Call a ride share or walk to public transportation" instead.
Problem: Tandem rides
When UCLA researchers stationed themselves on a street corner on three separate occasions to watch scooter users, one of the issues they observed were tandem riders, including parent-child pairs.
Solution: Scoot solo
The "share" in scooter share isn't an invitation to double up. There's not enough room on standard electric scooters for two people, says Ebel, and nothing for the second person to hold on to. Also, it's worth noting: Most scooters have a weight limit of around 220 pounds, so if you're injured while riding tandem, plan on being held accountable.
Problem: Reckless driving
Eighty percent of people in the UCLA study were injured by falling. In the CDC study, 10% of injured riders collided with a car, another 10% hit a curb, and 7% ran into an inanimate object, like a light pole.
Solution: Plan ahead
This one's a biggie. Scooter regulations vary from city to city, so it's up to you to know the rules.
If you're not allowed on the sidewalk, stay in the road. If you're riding alongside traffic, use hand signals. Wear reflective clothing and if you need to carry something, bring a backpack.
Hanging a bag off the handlebars or on one shoulder can throw you off balance. And, adds Ebel, "stay off your *&%^! phone while riding." If you have to check your navigation, pull over.
Before stepping on board, do a visual inspection by walking around the scooter and looking for any signs of damage or unusual wear. The wheels should be true and lights and batteries sufficiently powered. At the start of your ride, test the brakes and throttle. If you detect any issues, says Ebel, contact customer service and get another scooter.
Problem: Novice riders
Among the scooter injuries analyzed by the CDC, one-third occurred during the user's first ride.
Solution: Take a test ride
Just because you rode a scooter as a kid or are currently a cyclist, it doesn't mean you'll be an electric scooter natural.
"Scooters are less forgiving of ridges, bumps and holes than bikes because the wheels are smaller," says Ebel. "It's a good idea to practice a little bit in an empty parking lot or open space before heading off."
After reading any supplied safety instructions (they should be in the scooter company's app or on their website), practice starting and stopping, accelerating and decelerating, and maneuvering around obstacles. "Keep your knees bent a little," suggest Ebel, for more stability.
Problem: Lazily discarded scooters
This one isn't so much about keeping yourself safe but about being considerate of others -- especially those with disabilities who may find it difficult to maneuver around scooters that are scattered on a sidewalk.
Solution: Curb your scooter
"It's particularly important to consider where you drop the scooter off," says Ebel.
At the end of a ride, leave the scooter standing up and out of the way of pedestrians (especially wheelchair users) or any type of oncoming traffic. That means sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, driveways or service ramps should be considered no-parking zones.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.