A quarter of e-scooter injuries involve the head or face, with abrasions or lacerations, traumatic brain injuries and fractures the main types of head injuries, new Queensland data shows.
Arms were the next most affected part of the body, mainly involving fractures and dislocations or sprains.
The Jamieson Trauma Institute has led a team collecting and analysing data on e-scooter injuries from mid-2018 to mid-2021 across the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital and the Mater.
The institute’s findings come as the Queensland Government prepares to introduce new rules and increased penalties for people riding mobility devices like e-scooters from November 1.
Professor Kirsten Vallmuur from the Jamieson Trauma Institute says the patterns from the data show more than six in ten e-scooter injuries involved males.
The most common age group injured (39%) were 25- to 34-year-olds, followed by 18- to 24-year-olds(28%). More accidents were occurring on weekends.
“Friday, Saturday, Sunday are our most common times when we see people come to the [Emergency Department], kind of 6:00pm … into the early hours of the morning,” Vallmuur tells Cosmos.
Alcohol use was reported in 29% of cases. A third of injuries occurred when riders were travelling more than 20 km/h.
Fractures were the most common type of injury, followed by abrasions or lacerations, then dislocations.
“The most common injury types we see are fractures, and they account for about 37% of the injuries that are treated at the hospital. And most of those are upper extremity fractures … wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, that kind of thing,” Vallmuur says.
The analysis looked at more than 900 cases from emergency department presentations, ambulance callouts and hospital admissions. The institute recently presented its findings at an Australasian Trauma Society conference.
Read more: E-scooter injuries in children rising
New rules, penalties for e-scooters
Queensland’s new rules will reduce the speed e-scooters can travel on footpaths to 12 km/h with a limit of 25 km/h applying everywhere else including bike lanes and streets. Fines of up to $1,078 apply for certain offences, including speeding and holding a mobile phone while operating scooters.
The rules will be accompanied by visible enforcement and a detailed safety campaign.
The state also has a multi-agency committee on e-scooters with representation from transport, police, health, city council and other advocacy groups. It meets monthly.
Queensland was the first state in Australia to roll out an e-scooter share scheme in 2018 and now allows the use of private e-scooters. Other states and territories have since adopted a range of approaches to share schemes and private vehicles.
Dr Elliot Fishman is the director of the Institute for Sensible Transport, a transport and mobility consultancy.
He says the vehicles mainly provide “a first mile, last mile solution for people looking to make short trips that connect them to some other mode of transport, or to their final destination”.
“So, it could be a person that’s getting off a train, and they’ve got a one-and-a-half-kilometre walk from the train station to their final destination, whether it be a workplace, their home, or a friend’s place,” he says.
“You can travel about four times the speed on an e-scooter than what you can walk. It means you dramatically reduce the amount of travel time you have at the end of your journey.”
Fishman says there’s a range of benefits that might flow when e-scooters replace short car trips, such as reducing the need for car parking at suburban train stations, but data suggests a minority of e-scooter trips are replacing car journeys.
“Typically, about 25 to 40% of cars parked there are registered at an address with the same postcode as the train station itself,” he says. “In Australia something like 20% of bike share trips are replacing a car trip.”
Making micromobility safer
To improve safety, Fishman says governments should focus on making protected walking and micromobility lanes – separated from each other and from car lanes.
“Overwhelmingly the biggest risk is a lack of safe infrastructure,” he says.
A separated corridor for micromobility could be used by e-scooters, scooters, e-bikes, bicycles and even motorised wheelchairs. This would be at least 2.2 metres wide to allow for safe overtaking.
Fishman says there is a disproportionate focus on e-scooter accidents, particularly compared to issues with motor vehicles like SUVs and utes that are allowed on Australian roads, and block visibility for other road users.
“We can also think about road safety in a broader perspective, and think about what are the policies and regulations governing the motor vehicle, the vehicle that 80% of all trips are done in – which is the car – and what can be done to improve that,” he says.
“Not just for the safety of the occupants of those cars but for other road users as well.”
While annual statistics on e-scooter deaths are not currently available, The Guardian reported three deaths had occurred in the last month. There were 1,123 road crash deaths in Australia last year according to the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics.
One of the knowledge gaps is understanding the number of scooters being used and how often they’re ridden, particularly for private scooters. This gap makes it difficult to compare injury rates with other transport modes like bicycles and cars.
Data collection and research on e-scooter injuries in Queensland will continue with funding from the RACQ and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Foundation. This will also include interviews with patients to get further information about triggers and circumstances around incidents.