Study shows motorized scooters raise risk of head injuries and broken bones

They are everywhere you look on the Atlanta BeltLine, motorized scooters, sharing the popular path with walkers, runners and cyclists.

"It was just so weird to see them taking over a city," says Lindsey Brock, visiting Atlanta from Asheville, North Carolina.

She's riding, but she's wary.

"All morning I've been saying this is kind of terrifying," Brock laughs.

Her friend Emily Bradley likes how easy scooters make it to get from point A to point B in her traffic-congested hometown.

That said, Bradley says, the path can be chaotic.

"I've seen people do really stupid things on these scooters that I would not do, listening to music or riding in traffic," Bradley says.

And new study, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, shows the hottest new ride in town may be leaving a trail of injuries.

Emory orthopedic surgeon Dr. Eric Wagner was part of a research team that tracked emergency department visits for motorized scooter injuries from 2013 to 2017, through a public database known as the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS).

"It's a new technology, we don't realize how dangerous it can be," Wagner says.

Initially, researchers found no significant rise in motorized scooter related injuries.

But, between 2016 and 2017, as the popularity of scooters took off, they found 77% jump in millennials ending up in the Emergency Department.

"The most common reason was head injuries," Dr. Wagner says. "This ranged from head trauma to concussions. Head trauma is one of the number one reasons why people required hospitalization for these injuries."

Bone fractures and dislocations were the most common diagnoses, especially wrist and lower arm breaks.

The data backs up what Wagner says he's been seeing as a hand, elbow and shoulder surgeon.

"Some of them have been weaving and they hit a curb, going off the curb," Wagner says.

The database doesn't track the number of pedestrians injured by motorized scooters, or how often riders were intoxicated or speeding at the time of injury.

Researchers did find that injuries were most common on weekends, but more severe injuries, like those involving collisions with cars, were more common on weekdays.

In 2018, the City of Atlanta banned scooters from riding on sidewalks, and said it will enforce a 15-mile an hour speed limit.

While Dr. Wagner says better safety equipment, like helmets, is needed, he doesn't support banning scooters.

"I think that is maybe that is going to an extreme," Wagner says. "I think you can look into certain laws, or modify the scooters themselves. You can have designated paths, just like we do with bikes."

He says two-wheeled scooters might be safer with three wheels, or wider, more rugged wheels.

If you don't want to get hurt, Dr. Wagner says, wear a helmet, and slow down.

"Being mindful of pedestrians," he says. "Being mindful of cars, and being mindful of stop signs."