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  • Posted August 30, 2019

E-Scooters Plus Drinking: A Fast-Pass to the ER?

Drinking and driving an electric scooter doesn't mix, according to a new study.

Researchers reported serious injuries like brain bleeding or fractures that have happened while riding an electric scooter (e-scooter). Alcohol and drugs were a factor in many of these crashes.

"E-scooters may look like fun and games, but it's a vehicle. It's a motor attached to wheels, and you need to have a healthy respect for it. Anyone drinking or using any mind-altering substance should not be operating an e-scooter," said the study's lead author Dr. Leslie Kobayashi. She's an associate professor of clinical surgery at the University of California, San Diego.

Several people have died while riding e-scooters, according to published reports.

Though these devices aren't new, their popularity soared when several companies introduced rentable, dockless e-scooters in 2017, according to the study authors. Less than a year after the introduction of this environmentally friendly mode of transportation, almost 4% of U.S. adults said they had ridden one.

E-scooters are available in more than 65 cities, the study said. The laws regulating them vary depending on where you're riding.

In California, drivers over age 18 aren't required to wear helmets, and they can use e-scooters on roads with speed limits up to 35 mph. Kobayashi's study found that almost none of the injured riders was wearing a helmet.

She said anytime you're traveling faster than your feet can normally take you, you're at risk of significant injuries. And, the current types of e-scooters may be riskier than bicycles and other types of electric scooters.

"E-scooters have a fairly narrow platform and the handlebars are at a natural pivot point on your body at the waist. If you go over a bump, it can be like a human catapult that launches you over the handlebars," she explained. Even a small bump can cause a problem, she added.

The authors pointed out that only 135 accidents over nearly two decades have involved the two-wheeled Segway, another type of electric scooter.

The current study details more than 100 serious injuries treated at three U.S. trauma centers over just 13 months.

Almost two-thirds of those injured were men. Their average age: 37. Kobayashi said many of those injured were tourists.

Alcohol tests were done on almost 80% of those injured. Nearly half had levels above the legal limit for driving a car.

Sixty percent were tested for drugs, and of those, 52% were found to have taken drugs -- including marijuana, methamphetamines and amphetamines, in that order.

Overall, 1 in 3 of those injured needed surgery. Six people needed long-term nursing care and rehabilitation.

So, how can you ride an e-scooter safely?

Kobayashi suggested learning to ride in a quiet, dedicated recreational area.

"Gain skills before you start challenging yourself with a new environment with traffic. When you're on vacation, after having cocktails is not the best time to give this a try," she said.

Dr. Brenna Farmer, an emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, suggested that anyone riding an e-scooter should wear a helmet.

"They should also probably be wearing protective gear like wrist and knee guards," she added.

Farmer wasn't involved in the current research, but said the study is a good first step in identifying the risks involved with these devices and whether there are ways to prevent injuries.

Dr. James Dwyer, chairman of emergency services at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said he wasn't surprised by most of the findings, especially the lack of helmet use.

"We know from motorcycles that helmets are effective at preventing mortalities, but we don't have the culture for wearing helmets. No one wears a helmet when riding these things [e-scooters]," he said.

Dwyer was surprised by how many of the injured people had used drugs or alcohol before riding a scooter. By comparison, he said that less than a third of motor vehicle fatalities are alcohol-related.

"Alcohol and drugs impair your reflexes and coordination, and that may pose a particular problem on a scooter because they require balance," Dwyer said.

All three experts said the bottom line is clear: If you're going to ride an e-scooter, wear a helmet and don't ride if you've been drinking or have used drugs.

The study findings were published Aug. 29 in Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open.

More information

Read more about electric scooters from Consumer Reports.

SOURCES: Leslie Kobayashi, M.D., associate professor, surgery, University of California, San Diego; Brenna Farmer, M.D., emergency medicine physician, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and associate professor, clinical emergency medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City; James Dwyer, M.D., chairman, emergency services, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, N.Y.; Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open, Aug. 29, 2019
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