How safe are scooters? A pediatric ER expert weighs in
Nayeli Eagles rides her scooter during the annual parade in Lauderdale by the Sea, Fla., Friday, July 4, 2014. City officials invited kids to decorate their bikes for the parade. (J Pat Carter/AP Photo)
Scooters, both manual and electric, are gaining popularity in Canada and around the world. They are especially popular among kids of all ages to stay active and get around. However, scooters can be dangerous when ridden around traffic or at high speeds.
In Canada, and around the world, a popularity increase is also leading to a surge in emergency room visits from scooter-related injuries, said Meagan Doyle, a pediatric emergency physician and the trauma medical director at McMaster University.
“To be honest, a lot of us in the emergency department are saying ‘just don't use them because they're not safe,’” Doyle told CTVNews.ca over a phone interview on Tuesday.
A report published in 2022 by Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada stated there were 523 hospital cases related to e-scooter injuries between Jan. 2012 and Dec. 2019 in 11 pediatric and nine general hospitals across the country.
Out of these cases, 299 (57 per cent) were between the ages of two and 14 years old.
Doyle said they are seeing even more kids come to the pediatric emergency department with scooter-related injuries this year; yet, these numbers are difficult to accurately compare to previous data.
“The problem with using any sort of numbers is that, because they're new, any data will obviously tell us there's an increase in injuries related to e-scooters because we didn't have them easily accessible before,” she said.
Scooters are moved by pushing with one foot against the ground, or else they are powered by a motor. The ones powered by a motor tend to lead to more injuries due to reaching faster speeds.
Doyle said the most common injuries are head injuries such as concussions, brain injuries or facial scrapes, and arm injuries like forearm or elbow fractures.
Some, she explained, can be minor and heal in four to eight weeks, while others require sedation and a procedure to straighten the bone.
WHEN TO VISIT A DOCTOR
A recent study assessing whether e-scooters pose a risk to children in the U.K. found that out of ten patients identified, five required orthopedic surgery after an e-scooter accident and four required admission to the hospital’s emergency department.
Doyle said a visit to the hospital is not always necessary; however, there are cases where painkillers or soap and water alone cannot heal the injury.
“If it is an arm that the child is still not wanting to use, then that could be a sign that there is a fracture there that should be looked at,” she said.
Other symptoms such as ongoing confusion, vomiting repeatedly or not waking up properly could be signs of head injury, which requires a visit to a doctor.
“Our bottom line is, if you are worried, we'd much rather have you seen than have you sitting at home worried but, you know, sometimes that may come with a wait,” she said.
While some injuries can be assessed by your family doctor, Doyle said urgent care is a great alternative to emergency rooms for injuries needing an X-ray.
“But obviously, if the bone looks clearly bent or deformed, if there's an obvious dislocation, or concerns about a patient's level of consciousness, those absolutely should come to the emergency department right away,” she said.
HOW TO REDUCE RISKS WHEN RIDING A SCOOTER
Many scooter-related injuries are preventable and their severity can be minimized with a few simple safety tips.
“A helmet is by and large the most significant way to prevent serious traumatic brain injury,” said Doyle.
“The other things – that I think are just as important – are around making sure that people aren't using these e-scooters under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances.”
Another tip is to limit one rider per scooter as the second person would have less time to react if something were to happen.
Being aware of surroundings is also important, she added, as busy streets could lead to higher chances of collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.
One of Doyle’s biggest concerns with scooter use, she said, is the lack of policy or safe infrastructure around cities.
“We don't truly have appropriate infrastructure in most places to safely merge with traffic on the scooters,” she said. “So, I think it's a really difficult space from a policy standpoint for how to set people up for success and minimizing injury with these scooters right now.”