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Wellness

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.

electric-scooter-handlebar

A simple way to avoid injury? Keep your hands on the handlebars and off your phone while riding.

Markus Spiske/Pexels

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. 

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"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."

Read more: The best electric scooters, e-bikes and rideable tech we've tested in 2019

Below, we round up what the spate of research reveals about how and why people get injured riding scooters, plus what you can do to keep your skin and bones intact. 

Problem: Head injuries

In studies by both the University of California Los Angeles and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that head injuries, like brain bleeds and concussions, make up close to half of all reported injuries. 

Solution: Wear a helmet

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.

marek-rucinski-unsplash

Experts agree: Even for quick trips, wearing a helmet is a must.

Marek Rucinski/Unsplash

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.

couple rides a scooter tandem through a city

Sharing is caring -- except on a scooter.

Alex Ovs/Unsplash

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. 

Problem: Defective scooters

From battery fires to speed-control glitches, there have been multiple reports of scooters malfunctioning, with some complaints resulting in lawsuits.

Solution: Conduct a preride safety check 

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.

Electric scooter parked in walkway at cafe

Scooters parked in high-traffic areas can cause injuries long after a ride.

Bence Boros/Unsplash

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.