ER doc: Stay off electric scooters

Number of e-scooter-related injuries on the rise

A woman rides a green electric scooter on a bridge.
Emily Goldstein, 20, rides a Lime electric scooter on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis as she heads home from work on Friday. Goldstein says she typically only rides electric scooters in neighborhoods and on the bridge because riding "in the city is a little scary."
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Seconds after impact, Tonie Pereira knew he was hurt badly. He touched his hand to his face and saw that his bicycle glove was soaked in blood. It ran from Pereira’s forehead and nose and flowed down his throat. Blood also filled his ears and eyes.

“There was a point where I couldn’t see much because my eyes were full of blood,” said Pereria, 47, of Woodbury.

A little over a month ago, Pereira was riding his bike on a bike path around Bde Maka Ska, formerly known as Lake Calhoun. He collided with another cyclist who had slowed down to clear an electric scooter lying across the bike trail.

A man holds pictures of himself
Tonie Pereira holds pictures taken of him after he was injured
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Pereira landed on his face and suffered a broken nose and lacerations to his head, nose and upper lip, which needed 12 stitches to close. He later had to have surgery on his nose. It could have been much worse, said Pereira, had he not been wearing a helmet.

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One of the emergency room doctors who saw him that day counts Pereira’s injuries as e-scooter related, even though he was not riding one.

Over his 33-year career as an emergency doctor, Dr. Stephen W. Smith has seen a lot. But the electric-scooter-related injuries he’s seen this summer at Hennepin Healthcare are new.

“I can’t remember if it was April, May or June, but I remember that I started seeing a lot of them. And I was amazed at how many there were,” said Smith. “This was a brand new phenomenon ... none of us had ever experienced before.”

Smith estimates at least five people are treated in the ER each day for e-scooter-related injuries. That adds up to several hundred ER visits this summer. Unlike Pereira, the wounded are usually e-scooter riders.

Smith takes out his cellphone to refer to a list of cases he’s treated personally in the past month.

“A person with road rash and a finger laceration,” reads Smith. “... somebody with a tibia [shin] fracture; another person with an ankle fracture; another person with a clavicle [shoulder] fracture; another person with a mandible [jaw] fracture.”

Head injuries are also common, said Smith. When riders fall forward, they often strike the ground head first. Smith said he’s yet to see an injured rider wearing a helmet.

Helmets aren’t required by law for adults, yet e-scooter providers encourage riders to wear helmets.

A man wearing a sweatshirt rides an orange electric scooter.
Brandon Riegert, 22, of Eau Claire, Wis., rides a Spin electric scooter on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. Riegert said he was riding an electric scooter for the first time.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A UCLA Medical Center study of stand-up electric scooter injuries between 2017 and 2018 found that head trauma made up 40 percent of injuries. According to the study, 94 percent of patients were not wearing helmets.

“Safety really has to be a multifaceted approach,” said Nico Probst, a regional manager for Lime, one of three companies participating in Minneapolis’ e-scooter share program.

That approach, said Probst, includes safety tutorials for first-time riders and improvements to the scooters designed to make them safer to ride. The tutorials instruct people to wear helmets and obey the rules of the road and show them how to properly park the scooters.

“To encourage better parking behavior, we added a new feature last year, called ‘Parked or Not,’ where an individual actually has to take a picture of where they are leaving their scooter at the end of the trip,” said Probst.

E-scooter riders are instructed to park on sidewalks near curbs so they don’t block sidewalks, driveways or doors. Lime can use the data to fine or even ban users who continually violate the rules.

The company is also testing technology that can sense when a scooter is being improperly used on a sidewalk. However, Probst said there are some users who’ve said in surveys that they ride on sidewalks because they don’t feel safe riding in the streets.

Lime is also in the process of rolling out a new generation of scooters, said Probst. The new units have wider decks to stand on and bigger wheels to better cushion scooters from the bumps, potholes and cracks in the road.

It wasn’t a white-and-green-colored Lime e-scooter that was blocking cyclist Deborah Zvosec’s way on that day in August. She said it belonged to a different company. And it wasn’t the first time Zvosec had seen a scooter obstructing the bikeway. This time, Zvosec said she wanted to do something about it.

“I’ve had to pass scooters that are lying down across the trail before and I haven’t stopped to put them off the trail,” said Zvosec. “I should stop to get this scooter off the trail, or someone’s going to get hurt.”

Someone did get hurt. Tonie Pereira smacked into Zvosec as he rode up behind her and the two were thrown from their bikes.

Between May and early September this year, there have been more than 500,000 trips on e-scooters, according to Josh Johnson, advanced mobility manager for the Minneapolis Public Works Department. During that time period, the city has received 228 complaints that identify people either improperly parking or riding either Lime, Lyft or Spin e-scooters.

Johnson said the complaints are forwarded to the companies.

Four orange electric scooters are parked on the sidewalk.
Four Spin electric scooters are parked on Main Street in Minneapolis on Friday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The scooters were first rolled out late in 2018, but this is the first full year of the city’s experiment with motorized scooters as a non-car transportation option.

A city survey of riders who used scooters last year found that more than 40 percent chose the e-scooter for a trip instead of a car.

“In this time of climate crisis, being able to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by having scooters available is certainly something that aligns with our goals,” said Johnson. “But at the same time, we are conscious of the concerns about safety.”

The only way to safely ride an e-scooter, said Hennepin Healthcare emergency room Dr. Stephen Smith, is with a helmet.

But better yet, he said, just don’t ride them.

“I just tell people, ‘they’re dangerous devices,’” he said, pointing out that the other doctors and residents he works with share his opinion. “That would be a total of about 100 doctors in our emergency department. We all think they’re dangerous devices.”

Quick facts about e-scooters: By the numbers

  • There are three companies are in Minneapolis: Lime, Lyft and Spin; Two of them — Lime and Spin — operate in St. Paul.

  • Lime also has a small fleet of about 50 scooters in Edina and more than 100 in Rochester.

  • Minneapolis has authorized up to 2,500 scooters; To find out where scooters are in Minneapolis, check out this map.

  • St. Paul initially authorized 1,000 and has granted a request by Lime to add 500 more.

  • Scooters can travel at 15 mph, some are capable of going a little quicker.

  • Range varies between 14 and 30 miles, depending on the type of scooter.

  • Minneapolis has fielded at least 228 complaints which can be based on improper use or parking of scooters.

  • Minnesota state law prohibits motorized scooters on sidewalks — “except when necessary to enter or leave adjacent property.” They are allowed in streets, in bike lanes and bike paths, but only one rider is allowed at a time.

  • Riders under 18 are required to wear a helmet. No person under age 12 can legally ride a motorized scooter.

  • According to Minnesota State Court Information office, there have been two citations written this year — through Sept. 5 — for violations of the law.

  • A CDC study of dockless, electric scooter accidents in Austin, Texas, found that nearly half of survey subjects suffered serious injuries, such as a broken leg.

  • A UCLA study published in JAMA found that 40 percent of patients suffered head injuries.

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