Are Electric Scooters that dangerous?
Updated: Sep 12, 2019
Mark Twain once wrote, quoting from an uncertain source, that, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” As important as data and the information derived from it is to our modern society, there is no question that statistics can be misleading or difficult to parse, such as the infamous and oft quoted statistic that “vending machines kill more people than sharks.” This is not claiming that vending machines are apex predators, or even more lethal than sharks, simply that there are a great deal more vending machines on the mainland US than there are sharks. Similarly misleading is the statistic that electric scooters injuries have tripled over the last decade. While that number is accurate, it doesn’t take into account the massive explosion of electric scooter popularity. Furthermore, it fails to give scale to the rates of injuries that might be expected from a common mode of transportation.
In truth, there is very little evidence to support the idea that electric scooters are any more dangerous than walking. In 2016, there were over 130,000 car accidents involving pedestrians, with about half of those involving a significant amount of alcohol from either the driver or the pedestrian. The strongest estimator was in fact speed, where the frequency of accidents doubled between cars going 30mph - 40mph, and quintupled between 30mph and 50mph.
There is data suggesting that bicycles are actually safer than walking in terms of accidents, but less safe than cars or buses. To reduce accidents for both pedestrians and bikers, bike lanes are generally considered a must, reducing injuries by an estimated 90%.
While there is not yet much data on electric scooter-related injuries or riding rates, there is one useful study from Portland, Oregon, which remains the most comprehensive study to date. This study found a total of 700,369 rides over a 120 day period, resulting in 176 injuries. When taken as a percentage, that is about a .025% rate of injury. Compared to the earlier rate of injuries involving cars and pedestrians walking, which was .043%, it appears that walking is nearly twice as dangerous in dense urban environments. Of course, that’s not to say that electric scooters are actually much safer than walking. It is important not to take statistics at face value, and understand that reports of accidents increasing sometimes lack context.
If you do decide to ride an electric scooter, there are steps you can take to drastically reduce your risk of an injury. Studies from both UCLA and the CDC have found the most injuries occur from not wearing a helmet and from a lack of sobriety. The danger rises after sunset, when drunk driving rates increase and visibility decreases. To reduce risk, Levy Electric prohibits rentals after 9pm. While electric scooters are not capable of reaching speeds that cars can, it's important to remember that they are motorized vehicles and must be taken seriously. Wear a helmet, and don’t ride under the influence, and your risk of getting injured drops by over 50%. Remember to ride responsibly, and have fun!