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Many major cities are facing a new transportation challenge – those rentable dockless electric scooters that popped up here in St. Louis early last year. They’re certainly popular, and for plenty of reasons. All you need to do is download an app, find the nearest e-scooter, unlock it with a code, and you’re on your way.

E-scooters are touted as a simple and green way to take that “last mile” to your destination after you park your car, come off mass transit, or want a quick and easy way to a nearby shop or restaurant. They’re also popular with tourists looking for a fun and fast way to explore a new city.

As with many innovations, though, regulations (and common sense) sometimes lag behind. The challenges of e-scooters being abandoned on private property or cluttering sidewalks, impeding accessibility for pedestrians and particularly the disabled, have caused some city lawmakers to implement legislation or ban them altogether.

Other concerns have to do with injuries – and there are lots. In St. Louis alone, emergency room doctors immediately noticed a spike in visits once e-scooter rentals were introduced to the metro area.

two men riding electric scooters“We were seeing as many as 11 injuries in a week. And that caught our attention,” said Larry Lewis, a professor of emergency medicine who works in the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The department recorded an average of six or seven scooter-related injuries a week starting in August [2018], up from just one or two per week in previous months. During a 10-week period between August and October, at least 67 patients came to the emergency department after electric-scooter crashes. Only one was wearing a helmet. Three people had brain hemorrhages, and 17 broke bones in their arms or legs.

A recent examination of the types and severity of e-scooter injuries in another urban area – Dallas, TX – was published last month in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, where researchers determined that the introduction of e-scooter usage was linked to a greater incidence of craniofacial trauma severe enough to bring patients to the ER.

Facial injuries of all spectrums were found in our study, with injuries spanning fatal intracranial hemorrhage to simple facial abrasions requiring minimal medical attention. The results from the present study have demonstrated that the introduction of e-scooter usage is linked to a greater incidence of craniofacial trauma at a Level I trauma ED.

Two major factors contributing to these injuries? Lack of helmet use and alcohol. Another, identified by Steven Lorber, an ER doctor at St. Louis University, is losing control after reaching high speeds going downhill.

A lot of times, patients will hit a pothole, and they’ll go over the handlebars. So they oftentimes make contact with the ground with their teeth and face first.

Ouch.

two women on scooters wearing helmetsSo if you want to enjoy the convenience of an e-scooter without doing a faceplant on the pavement, what to do?

Avoiding alcohol is a good first step, and not just because DUI laws are beginning to catch up with the e-scooter trend. Next, of course is wearing a helmet, just like you should when cycling, skateboarding, or riding a motorcycle.

While the jury is divided on how effective helmets are at protecting your face – some studies say yes, others no – just like any sport where impacts may happen, a mouthguard or full frontal helmet like those used in BMX or mountain biking may be a better choice for protecting your teeth.

Other e-scooter recommendations were offered in a recent report from St. Louis’s Washington University, where 28 e-scooter related injuries requiring medical care were reported between June and November 2019 alone. Their advice?

Ride only in proper designated areas; Become familiar with the operations of the scooter; Do not exceed a speed at which you can comfortably stop or avoid obstacles in your path; Slow down in congested areas, and dismount in heavily congested areas.

It may not seem as fun to follow rules, but it sure beats showing up at the ER with a facial fracture, concussion, or a tooth or two in hand.

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