Ryan Stanton likes to joke that in October, San Diego was both the safest city in the United States and the most dangerous.
The safest because, as the setting for the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), it drew 10,000 doctors who, like him, treat acute injuries in the ER.
And the most dangerous because a lot of those doctors couldn’t resist sampling an innovation recently introduced to the Southern California city: the dockless electric scooter.
Conventioneering doctors were careering around everywhere. They quickly realized motorized scootering was going to be good for business — business that, frankly, they’d rather not have.
“It can be really dangerous,” said Ryan, an ER doctor with Central Emergency Physicians in Lexington, Ky., and an ACEP spokesman.
New technology always brings new risks.
“Within the last five to 10 years, cellphones have been the big one: people walking into stuff, into traffic,” Ryan said. “A couple of years ago, when those little hoverboards got popular, that was huge, especially for adults.”
The new problem in cities like San Diego and Washington, he said, is that many adults think that because they mastered foot-powered scooters when they were kids, electric scooters will be easy-peasy.
“But now they’re bigger, and they probably don’t have much training on how to maintain that balance,” Ryan said.
Get out into traffic and on uneven surfaces and scooters are literally an accident waiting to happen. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would study the spike in scooter-related injuries.
In the hopes of keeping riders safe, the ACEP worked with two Washington-area firms to create a safe-scootering public service announcement. The Chevy Chase, Md., ad agency August, Lang & Husak wrote the PSA. The District’s Interface Media Group (IMG) did the animation.
Everyone who worked on the PSA has his own scooter story.
Chuck Husak of August, Lang & Husak said he’s seen people riding two to a scooter or texting and eating while zipping along.
“It’s as bad as distracted driving,” he said.
David Flood, creative strategist at IMG, said he was almost hit by a scooter last year while walking out of his office.
“I didn’t even see him coming,” David said. “He said, ‘Watch out,’ but he was not even hesitating to stop.”
Ryan admitted that he wasn’t immune to the lure of the dockless scooters in San Diego, taking nearly two dozen rides.
“I had it going 22 to 25 miles an hour around the bay to restaurants,” he said. “Twenty-two to 25 without any protective equipment can be significantly dangerous, if not deadly.”
What happens when scootering goes bad?
“In most cases, the front [wheel] hits something, and you go forward,” Ryan said. “The upper extremities are the main area of impact: wrists, elbows, shoulders, hands. That’s the most common injury other than simple abrasions. But any time you go over frontways, your head is going to be at a high risk. Head injuries are a significant concern.”
The cheery 60-second animation unveiled in February is similar in spirit to “Dumb Ways to Die,” a PSA created to encourage Australians to take care near trains that went viral. IMG’s Steve Karp was the director of animation for the new spot.
“Seems like we found a whole new way to end up in the emergency room,” goes some of the narration, voiced by ex-WHFS DJ Rob Timm. “Better take it down a notch, scooter equestrians.”
The main takeaway: Always wear a helmet. A broken arm can heal. A broken brain, not so much.
Said Ryan: “I’m not one that says we should ban [scooters], but people need to be aware there is a risk. They can’t just hop on and act surprised when all of a sudden gravity takes over.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.