Electric scooters are unsafe at any speed. Worldwide, e-scooters are creating an epidemic of injuries and fatalities. From Sweden to Oklahoma, old and young are getting profoundly injured and dying. I implore our Seattle government to rethink the proposal to allow e-scooters on city streets.
As a physician who specializes in treating individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, I am deeply concerned about Seattle’s proposed plan to allow the rental of dockless e-scooters. Scooters represent a significant public health risk, and any plan to welcome them here should be thoroughly vetted.
The surface appeal of these toylike forms of transportation is undeniable; scooters appear simple to operate, fun to ride and represent an environmentally friendly form of transportation. However, in cities that currently allow scooter rentals both users and pedestrians are getting seriously injured. Published data and physician accounts show the correlation between the rise in scooter popularity and serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
In scooter-filled cities, kids and adults alike are riding them in the street, on sidewalks, pedestrian trails … everywhere. The rules of e-scooter riding are clear, but they are not followed. Riders ignore age requirements. Most do not wear helmets. They double-up and ride in areas not conducive to scooters or public safety. Even if rules are followed, riders are crashing due to user error, device malfunction or simply the nature of scooter design.
The city of Austin and the CDC published a study describing injury patterns and rates for e-scooter users. This study, and another in California, clearly show the incidence of head injuries as alarming; nearly half of injured scooter riders sustained serious head trauma.
In my experience, caring and advocating for brain-injured individuals is fulfilling but also extremely challenging. The degree to which even a mild traumatic brain injury can affect a person’s life cannot be overstated. Patients are often left with long-term difficulty learning, concentrating or making simple decisions. Chronic headaches, mood disorders and difficulties with vision can develop. Head injuries can keep people from working, maintaining relationships, or even completing the most basic self-care. Obviously, the aftereffects of brain injuries can be devastating. Resources available to treat these patients are limited and the cost of providing their care can be astounding.
The New York Times recently published an Op-Ed from a Nashville resident who shared the scooter issues her city has faced after a scooter rider was hit and killed by an SUV.
Nashville’s Mayor David Briley is banning scooters and on Twitter said, “If these devices return in the future, it will be after a public process, on our terms, with strict oversight for numbers, safety and accessibility.” I suggest that Seattle’s elected officials note Mayor Briley’s plight.
With the wealth of injury information available, Seattle should not be caught off guard and naively allow scooters on its streets. Rather, elected officials should take heed of what other cities are suffering from. Or is Seattle willing to accept even one catastrophic injury in exchange for a quick and convenient quarter-mile ride that could have been walked? In medicine, treating a benign condition with a potentially dangerous procedure would be considered malpractice.
I ask the City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan to consider the following four recommendations:
• Pause and consider the necessity and true costs, both tangible and intangible, of introducing scooters to Seattle.
• Fully and formally evaluate the experiences of other cities worldwide.
• Consider the risk-to-benefit ratio of implementing this mode of transportation. Respect the data. People will be injured in Seattle while operating e-scooters just as in every other city in which they have been rolled out.
• Provide a formal performance audit of e-scooter use and implications in comparable cities, and then open the decision for public comment before moving forward with this transportation option.
After this level of due diligence has been completed, I believe the council and mayor will find that the benefits of providing electric scooters will not come close to the problems they cause.