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Head injuries, fractures common in e-scooter crashes, study finds

E-scooters blamed for serious injuries

The electric scooter craze has taken many cities by storm, but this trendy mode of transportation has a hazardous downside. A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles finds that 1 in 3 people involved in electric scooter accidents are injured badly enough that they require a trip to the emergency room.

Fractures, dislocated joints, and head injuries were the most common injuries.

"[We saw] a range of different fractures. The wrist, forearm and the ankles. There were a lot of patients who came in with head injuries. Fortunately the majority of them suffered minor concussions, but five patients did have bleeding inside the brain," the study's lead author Dr. Tarak Trivedi told CBS News.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, is the first published medical study on injuries caused by electric scooters.

Researchers say Los Angeles-area emergency departments are at the epicenter of the electric scooter phenomenon. Santa Monica was one of the first U.S. cities where the scooters were widely used.

Now, electric scooters from companies like Bird and Lime are available in more than 60 cities nationwide and a growing number of locations around the world.

"There are thousands of riders now using these scooters, so it's more important than ever to understand their impact on public health," Trivedi, who is a scholar in the National Clinician Scholars Program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.

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People ride Bird shared dockless electric scooters along Venice Beach, Aug. 13, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Getty

The researchers analyzed data from 249 people who were treated for scooter-related injuries at the emergency departments of two Los Angeles hospitals from Sept. 1, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2018.

About 92 percent of the injured people had been riding electric scooters. The other 8 percent were pedestrians who were struck by scooter riders or who stumbled over a discarded scooter. Head injuries were the most common complaint at 40 percent, followed by fractures at 32 percent, and cuts, sprains, or bruises at 28 percent.

Fifteen people required admittance to the hospital, and two needed treatment in the intensive care unit.

Only 4 percent of those injured were wearing a helmet while riding.

E-scooters can reach speeds of about 15 miles per hour, the study authors note, and it's become common practice for many riders to zip on and off streets and sidewalks dodging pedestrians and motorists.

Scooter companies typically recommend riders be at least 18 years old and always wear helmets while riding. However, most people do not listen to these guidelines.

Unused scooters are often left on at the edge of curbs, but are sometimes abandoned on sidewalks where they can be a tripping hazard.

Some cities have adopted different measures to respond to safety issues electric scooters pose. Santa Monica, for example, began a public safety campaign with two leading e-scooter companies last summer encouraging riders to have a valid driver's license, only ride on the street, not the sidewalk, and always wear a helmet. Shortly after, the city launched a pilot program intended to develop administrative regulations on shared scooters and bikes.

In San Francisco, the use of electric scooters were banned for several months last year after a handful of scooter companies deployed hundreds of dockless scooters throughout the city in late March. This drew the ire of many residents because they were often left on sidewalks, obstructing walkways. In October, officials allowed the scooters once more, but not on sidewalks, CBS San Francisco reported.

In response to the new study, Scooter company Bird called the report "very limited" and said the number of injuries reported amounts to a small fraction of e-scooter riders.

In a statement to CBS News the company said it's "committed to partnering with cities, organizations, and community members to safely and responsibly embrace e-scooters as an alternative to cars."

Lime, another scooter company, says it has led several safety initiatives including distributing tens of thousands of free helmets to e-scooter riders.

Shayna Specht paused her e-scooter on a Santa Monica sidewalk to say she feels safe using them. "You just have to be cautious of other people just riding a bike or walking," she told CBS News.

Trivedi also urges this caution.

"While electric scooters are easy fun convenient and incredibly useful, they have to be taken seriously," he said.