CDC: Nearly half of injured Austin scooter riders studied had severe injuries

Local News
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Editor’s note: We have updated the numbers since we first received the report on Tuesday.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied scooter injuries in Austin for nearly three months last year, and KXAN obtained the preliminary results of the study Tuesday ahead of a city release.

The CDC says this is the first study that involved interviewing injured people to try to better understand how their injury occurred and what the risk and protective factors for injuries might be.

Over the 87-day period, 271 individuals were identified with potential scooter-related injuries. The CDC interviewed those people, and 192 confirmed being injured in a scooter-related incident.

About half of those people were aged 18 to 29 years, and more than half were relatively new to riding e-scooters with fewer than 9 trips taken before the injury occurred. 

The CDC says almost half of the people identified had a severe injury. The types of injuries included in that category were:

  • Bone fractures 
  • Nerve, tendon, ligament injuries
  • Spending more than 48 hours in the hospital
  • Severe bleed
  • Sustained organ damage
  • Traumatic brain injury

Researchers found that 20% of injured riders identified ended up in the hospital. 45% had head injuries, 27% had upper body fractures, and 12% had lower body fractures.

“The most concerning is traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Medical Director at Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services. “Depending on the severity of those, it may cause permanent injury, which may be difficult to recover from.”

“We’ve seen some people who were a college student one day and were a nursing home resident the next day,” said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, Emergency Department Director at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

Dr. Christopher Ziebell says Dell Seton Medical Center generally sees 10 riders per day on average, who are injured badly enough to need emergency room care.

He says often the cause of the injury is as simple as the rider hitting a pothole or something else in the road.

“Typically, they’re going 15 to 20 miles per hour when it happens and they become a forward projectile,” Dr. Ziebell told us.

The CDC concluded that a high proportion of scooter-related injuries involved potentially preventable risk factors, such as lack of helmet use, or motor vehicle interaction. 

The CDC said that “interventions aimed at these risks and education to first-time riders could potentially reduce injury incidence and severity.”

Of the injuries reported, the CDC said less than one percent of riders reported wearing a helmet.

“I know some things that we’ve already figured out,” said Dr. Ziebell. “One is that wearing a helmet would be an important thing to do if you want to keep yourself safe.”

Ryan Newburg rides a scooter to class a few times per week, but says he knows people who have crashed riding them.

“I do think it takes an athlete to ride one of these, it’s not easy,” he said. “People definitely fall.”

Newburg also told KXAN he generally doesn’t wear a helmet while riding.

“I don’t consider wearing a helmet, just because I do it to get to class in five minutes,” he said. “If I’m going on a long ride for 30 minutes, sure.”

Last month, Austin city councilmembers postponed a vote to regulate scooters, like bikes, until May.

Searching for solutions to decrease the injury numbers

“These are not harmess devices, and it’s important for people to learn about them, to operate them safely,” said Escott. 

City officials said in a news conference Thursday the CDC study will guide the conversation the Austin City Council will have later in May about updating the city’s scooter regulations. 

The city says public education could be the key, but some people KXAN spoke with had a more specific idea.

“Companies should take responsibility as far as offering some kind of insurance,” said Paul Clough. “If you rent a car, you have the option to get insurance, so it would be good if we had some kind of option for that.”

Clough was injured at the end of Janaury while riding a scooter to his work.

He said, “It came to an abrupt stop. It wasn’t like I hit anything, any bump.”

Clough ended up with a broken femur and a medical bill totaling $43,000. He said he doesn’t have health insurance, so even after working with the hospital to lower the bill, he still has to pay tens of thousands of dollars.

“It was an unexpected occurence, so there was nothing I could’ve done to prepare for it.”

In a case like this where it’s likely the scooter malfunctioned, attorney Brad Bonilla says scooter companies should be held accountable. 

“They malfunction due to no fault of the user,” he said. “There absolutely needs to be some accountabiltiy for scooter companies.” 

Bonilla went on to explain, “If you look at the way the State of Texas regulates rideshare, Uber, Lyft, there is an insurance requirement. Why would you look at scooters any differently. You can do that and still ticket the bad riders.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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