Andrew Hardy was crossing the street on an electric scooter in downtown Los Angeles when a car struck him at 50 miles per hour and flung him 15 feet in the air before he smacked his head on the pavement and fell unconscious.
The 26-year-old snapped two bones in each leg, broke a thighbone, shattered a kneecap, punctured a lung and fractured three vertebrae in his neck, in addition to sustaining a head injury.
“My brother thought I was dead,” said Hardy, who wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Doctors told Hardy he’d likely be paralyzed for life. Five months later, he has learned to walk again. But he says he’ll never ride another scooter.
“These scooters should not be available to the public,” Hardy said. “Those things are like a death wish.”
As stand-up electric scooters have rolled into more than 100 cities worldwide, many of the people riding them are ending up in the emergency room with serious injuries. Others have been killed. There are no comprehensive statistics available but a rough count by The Associated Press of media reports turned up at least 11 electric scooter rider deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of 2018. Nine were on rented scooters and two on ones the victims owned.
With summer fast approaching, the numbers will undoubtedly grow as more riders take to the streets. Despite the risks, demand for the two-wheeled scooters continues to soar, popularized by companies like Lime and Bird. In the U.S. alone, riders took 38.5 million trips on rentable scooters in 2018, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
Riders adore the free-flying feel of the scooters that have a base the size of a skateboard and can rev up to 15 miles per hour. They’re also cheap and convenient, costing about $1 to unlock with a smartphone app and about 15 cents per minute to ride. And in many cities, they can be dropped off just about anywhere after a rider reaches their destination.
But pedestrians and motorists scorn the scooters as a nuisance at best and a danger at worst.
Cities, meanwhile, can hardly keep up. In many cases, scooter-sharing companies dropped them onto sidewalks overnight without warning.
Regulations vary from place to place. In New York and the U.K., electric scooters are illegal on public roads and sidewalks, even though riders routinely flout the law. Last week in the Swedish city of Helsingborg, a rider was struck and killed by a car just one day after scooters were introduced there, leading to immediate calls for a ban. And in Nashville, Tennessee, where another rider was killed, the city’s mayor warned scooter operators they had 30 days to clean up their act or he would propose a ban.
Data on injuries or fatalities linked to scooters is hard to come by because the industry is so new. In Austin, Texas, public health officials working with the Centers for Disease Control counted 192 scooter-related injuries in three months in 2018. Nearly half were head injuries, including 15% that were traumatic brain injuries like concussions and bleeding of the brain. Less than 1% of the injured riders wore a helmet.
Getting people to wear helmets is a challenge. Riders don’t want exposure to lice or germs that could be found in shared helmets, and many make a spontaneous decision to scoot while they’re already out and about.