Federal Agency to Study Dockless Scooter Health Risks – Next City

Federal Agency to Study Dockless Scooter Health Risks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's headquarters in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will undertake the first epidemiological study of dockless scooters, SmartCitiesDive reports.

The agency is partnering with Austin Public Health and the Austin Transportation Department to study the health risks associated with dockless scooters.

Austin has one of the oldest and biggest dockless scooter programs in the country, with six scooter companies operating a combined 11,000 vehicles on the streets. (There’s also just around 850 dockless bikes in the city.) “The devices in the highly-trafficked downtown area compete for space with pedestrians and motorists, and users regularly can be seen attempting to weave through crowds on sidewalks, with varying levels of success,” SmartCitiesDive said.

The CDC will study injuries caused by scooters — of which there were 68 reported in just two months this fall.

To put this number into context, in just the month of October, there were 14 reported scooter crashes, the city said in a presentation about dockless scooters. During that same period there were 1,404 car crashes, four of them fatal. In October, scooter users took 275,000 trips averaging one mile apiece.

Texas Monthly adds that “the study comes at a good time.” Austin is also reconsidering its dockless scooter rules, considering raising permit prices on operators, studying governance models that would allow it to better manage the number of companies and vehicle fleet sizes allowed to operate in the city, and adjusting speed limits. The city hopes to have the new ordinance in place by February, before 70,000 people arrive for SXSW in mid-March.

Austin has not been shy about taking companies to task. Just last month the city ordered Lime to remove 1,000 scooters from its fleet for illegally parking too many of its scooters downtown, KUT reported. (Lime reported that the over-deployment downtown was unintentional, due to high demand.)

Dockless scooters have caused numerous injuries since appearing in many cities around the country, many due to rider inexperience, Vox reports. Plus, since cars and pedestrians can’t necessarily predict what a scooter will do at an intersection, there have been more collisions.

“We’re seeing these injuries daily, and at least once or twice a week we’re seeing someone who needs an urgent surgery,” Natasha Trentacosta, an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles, told the Cedars-Sinai Blog. “These can be life-changing injuries, and they can often be prevented.”

Yet elsewhere, injuries reported have been minimal. Dallas police executive assistant chief David Pughes told the city council that they’d only heard of four injuries in a roughly three-month period, the Dallas News reported.

And in San Francisco, doctors believe that useful data will only appear once they come up with a classification schema that currently does not exist: was the scooter shared or privately owned? Was the user wearing a helmet? Christopher Colwell, chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said in a release announcing the taxonomy initiative that “scooter crash” is currently lumped into the catch-all category — which also includes “squirrel attack.” Doctors are hoping more specific data will inform safety regulations in San Francisco, which has just started a modest one-year pilot, after the previous free-for-all did not work out.

Safety experts remind users to use common sense, wear a helmet, and not ride while drunk.

Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.

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