Monday, September 10, 2018

Like bicycles, scooters are unsafe

Wall Street Journal

Scooter use is rising and so are trips to the emergency room.
By Peter Holley
September 6
Washington Post

They have been pouring into emergency rooms around the nation all summer, their bodies bearing a blend of injuries that doctors normally associate with victims of car wrecks — broken noses, wrists and shoulders, facial lacerations and fractures, as well as the kind of blunt head trauma that can leave brains permanently damaged.

When doctors began asking patients to explain their injuries, many were surprised to learn that the surge of broken body parts stemmed from the latest urban transportation trend: shared electric scooters.

In Santa Monica, Calif. — where one of the biggest electric-scooter companies is based — the city’s fire department has responded to 34 serious accidents involving the devices this summer. The director of an emergency department there said his team treated 18 patients who were seriously injured in electric-scooter accidents during the final two weeks of July. 

And in San Francisco, the doctor who runs the emergency room at a major hospital said he is seeing as many as 10 severe injuries a week.

“Injuries are coming in fast and furious,” said Michael Sise, chief of medical staff at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, noting that his team saw four severe scooter injuries last week. “It’s just a matter of time before someone is killed. I’m absolutely certain of it.”

The Washington Post interviewed emergency-room physicians in seven cities, including Austin, Atlanta and Nashville, with doctors in each place reporting a spike in severe accidents after the devices launched on their streets. No national data on scooter injuries exist yet.

As the injuries pile up in cities across the country, the three largest scooter companies — operating under the names Bird, Lime and Skip — have seen their values soar as they attempt to transform urban transit, following the successes of ride-hailing and bike-sharing companies. 

The scooter start-ups have attracted massive investments from Uber, the prominent technology venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, with some analysts estimating that some of the privately held companies might be worth more than $1 billion.

But a growing number of critics — including doctors, former riders, scooter mechanics and personal injury lawyers — say the devices may look like toys but inflict the same degree of harm as any other motorized vehicle on the road, only without having to comply with safety regulations. These critics add that some ­electric-scooter fleets are poorly maintained by a loose-knit flock of amateur mechanics, making them prone to dangerous mechanical failures...

One of those who may join the wave of lawsuits against the scooter companies is John Montgomery. The 47-year-old says he had been riding his Bird for only a few blocks in July when the accelerator became stuck in place as he approached a Los Angeles intersection, causing the scooter to “buck forward” and launch his body past the handle bars.

Montgomery awoke to the sight of a stranger standing over him and calling an ambulance. He had landed on his face, he said, breaking his jaw in two places and causing blood to pour from his ears.

“They took me to the emergency room crying and screaming,” he said. “I had never been in so much pain in my life.”

Montgomery, who plans to sue Bird, spent nearly a week in the hospital. He remains on painkillers and continues to consume meals through a straw. He has had to miss work and feels nervous each time he has to cross a street.

“These companies are just getting these scooters out there as fast as they can, but they’re not servicing them and checking them for safety,” he said. “I honestly don’t think they give a damn if I lived or died.”

He hasn’t heard from Bird but recently noticed that the company charged him for the period of time he lay on the street, bloodied and unconscious.

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