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Most scooter injuries in D.C. region happen on sidewalks, study says

Nearly 3 out of 5 riders who were hospitalized in the nation’s capital last year were injured riding on the pathways

A man rides an e-scooter near the corner of 14 Street NW and New York Avenue NW in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

A report offers some evidence that most injuries involving e-scooters happen on sidewalks — though the vast majority of the injured are the riders themselves.

Nearly 3 out of 5 scooter riders who were hospitalized in the nation’s capital last year were injured riding on the sidewalk, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. One out of 5 were injured riding in a bike lane or on a trail.

The IIHS researchers interviewed more than 100 e-scooter riders whose injuries landed them in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital between March and November 2019. Six percent of the injured during the study period were nonriders, according to the report, including pedestrians and bicyclists who tripped over scooters on sidewalks.

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The study compared the findings to earlier research on bicyclists injuries and found the rate of injuries for scooter riders was higher than for bicyclists. Though scooter riders suffered injuries more frequently per miles traveled, bicyclists were three times as likely as scooter riders to be hit by motor vehicles — which leads to even more severe injuries, according to the report.

“We didn’t see many e-scooter crashes with motor vehicles, and that may be a result of riders sticking mostly to the sidewalk,” said Jessica Cicchino, vice president for research at IIHS and lead author of the study. “Our results suggest that moving scooters off the sidewalk could put riders at risk of more severe injuries, but as things stand they might be suffering these lesser injuries more often.”

Some cities, including the District, have enacted restrictions limiting scooter use on sidewalks. The devices are banned from sidewalks in the District’s central business district.

The D.C. Council last week approved legislation requiring better signage on streets to alert users about the sidewalk prohibition. The legislation also requires companies to provide training for riders and establishes new rules for scooter use in the city such as a requirement that scooters be locked to racks or poles when they are not in use, starting next year.

To address growing sidewalk conflicts, some scooter companies and cities are testing detection technology that would discourage sidewalk riding and promote safer operations, potentially reducing scooter-related injuries for riders and pedestrians.

Detection technology could help keep e-scooters off sidewalks

Some researchers and industry leaders worry forcing riders into the streets puts them at risk of more serious injuries. Previous research, including a report this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), found e-scooter riders prefer using bike lanes and when bike lanes are not available they are more likely to use the sidewalk out of safety concerns.

The IIHS data highlights the importance of investments in infrastructure to provide safe spaces for scooter riders, said Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement at the GHSA.

“Investments in infrastructure such as protected bike lanes provide benefits to all road users by providing safer travel spaces for bicyclists and e-scooter riders, reducing the potential for crashes with motor vehicles and pedestrians,” Fischer said.

The IIHS found bike lanes were rarely available in the instances in which the riders were injured in the road or on sidewalks.

The study also found e-scooter riders who were hurt riding in traffic suffered more severe injuries than those hurt riding on sidewalks, bike lanes or trails. Collisions with moving vehicles accounted for 13 percent of the injuries to e-scooter riders, compared with 40 percent for bicycles.

“On the other hand, there are legitimate concerns that sidewalk riders could crash into pedestrians,” Cicchino of the IIHS said.

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E-scooter riders were twice as likely as bicyclists to be injured because of a pothole or crack in the pavement or in collisions with other infrastructure like a signpost or curb.

About 1 in 4 of the injured scooter riders were commuting to work. The rest were running errands or riding for fun. Forty percent of those interviewed were injured on their first ride, which experts said indicates that inexperience played a role in the crashes and the need for more training.

About a third of those riders were injured in places where sidewalk riding is prohibited, the report said. The most common injuries among e-scooter riders were concussions with loss of consciousness and skull fractures. Only 2 percent of the injured e-scooter riders reported wearing a helmet, the study found.

E-scooter injuries have surged along with the devices’ popularity in the United States. The Associated Press in January cited a report published in JAMA Surgery that found that U.S. emergency rooms treated nearly 40,000 broken bones, head injuries, cuts and bruises resulting from scooter accidents from 2014 through 2018.