With many Australian states reviewing the laws around electric scooters, new data from Victoria suggests more can be done to prevent serious injuries.
Data from Monash University’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit shows a doubling in the number of scooter injuries in the state this year.
Some 427 people attended emergency departments with injuries from e-scooters in 2021/22, a 234% increase on the previous year.
The data comes from 38 Victorian public hospitals with 24-hour emergency departments. Around a third of the emergency department presentations were admitted to hospital.
Reflecting trends seen in Queensland, the majority of Victorian e-scooter injuries involved males (68% in 2021/22), with head and neck injuries common.
Younger people aged 10 to 39 consistently made up more than 70% of emergency department presentations in 2020/21 and 2021/22.
But urban transport specialists say e-scooters should still be taken seriously as a method of transport which offers environmental and health benefits.
Professor Hussein Dia from Swinburne University, an expert in future urban mobility, argues it’s important to consider the broader benefits offered by micromobility transport options, particularly as an alternative to private car use for shorter commutes, and for connecting people to nearby public transport.
“I think we need to take them seriously because they can make a big difference in terms of reducing congestion, improving livability in our cities, because they can be accessed very easily, and also they can be a force for a good change in reducing emissions.”
“Transport contributes around 18% of [greenhouse gas emissions], particularly road transport and specifically private vehicles. So, the more we move people out of private vehicles towards public transport, e-bikes and e-scooters, the better for everyone. And then also, let’s not forget about the health benefits. But we need to prioritise safety,” he says.
Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit data shows there were more than 11,400 emergency department presentations related to cycling injuries, more than 5,500 for motorbikes, and more than 7,600 related to cars in 2021/22. While e-scooter injury numbers are relatively small in comparison to these other transport modes, it’s difficult to compare statistics directly given the lack of information on the proportion of trips made by e-scooter.
Transport accidents are the third highest cause of serious injuries and fourth highest cause of deaths, 2019-20 data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows. Car occupants and motorcyclists experienced the highest rates of serious injuries and deaths.
Dia says while each city is different in terms of its infrastructure and transport policies, a UK study found e-scooters were five times safer than bicycles and nine times safer than motorbikes.
Professor Mark Stevenson, an expert in transport and public health at the University of Melbourne, says when e-scooters and e-bikes replace car trips this reduces air pollution in the form of particulate matter from car tyres and combustion.
Stevenson says injury data typically doesn’t distinguish between regulated use of e-scooters as part of the trial in Melbourne, and illegal or unregulated use. This is an important distinction because vehicles in the trial have safety measures in place such as speed limitations and helmet requirements.
“If we embrace them and also ensure that we can deliver a safe transport infrastructure for them, we could see enormous utility out of these vehicles, one that will deliver in spades,” he says.
The year-long trial of 1,500 rent-and-ride e-scooters operates in the inner city councils of Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip. To date, Melburnians have taken more than a million trips on e-scooters according to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.
Private e-scooters remain illegal to use in public spaces, including roads and footpaths in Victoria. It’s estimated 100,000 e-scooters are privately owned in Victoria, according to reports in The Age.
A spokesperson for Neuron, one of the companies participating in the Melbourne trial, says its vehicles include safety technology that controls where e-scooters are ridden and parked, and how fast they can travel.
“Safety is our top priority, we have a robust rider education program focused on ensuring riders know the rules and how to ride and park responsibly. We run regular safety campaigns and ScootSafe events and deploy ‘Safety Ambassadors’ to city streets to engage one-to-one with riders and the general public,” the spokesperson says.
According to the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit, the most common injuries were fractures (35%), dislocations or sprains (11%) or open wounds (11%) in 2021-22.
Most injuries occurred as a result of people falling from e-scooters (81%), 7% collided with a car or van, 1% collided with a bicycle, and 1% with a pedestrian.