The Atlanta City Council is pushing for new regulations on electric scooters that they hope will lead to more safety requirements for the popular — but some say dangerous — mode of urban transportation.
In a resolution passed March 4, the council asked hospitals and healthcare outlets to voluntarily track scooter-related injuries and share the numbers with the city. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said she hopes the data will help the City Council write new safety requirements.
While no data currently exists for Atlanta, Grady Memorial Hospital, the largest hospital in Georgia, estimated it receives between 80 and 100 scooter-related injuries per month, ranging from serious head injuries to broken limbs.
Around the nation, it’s estimated there have been at least 1,500 injuries related to the scooters since 2017, according to a Consumer Reports magazine study published in February. The magazine also found at least four scooter-related fatalities were confirmed nationally. The magazine compiled the data after contacting 110 hospitals in 47 cities where the two biggest scooter companies, Bird and Lime, operate.
Aaron Nichols, a career coach visiting Atlanta from Washington, D.C., said he expected there would be risks riding scooters, but was taken aback by the number of injuries Grady treats each month. He and a couple of friends planned to ride Lime scooters to Piedmont Park.
“They seem like they go pretty fast, so I would imagine it would be helpful to require helmets,” Nichols said.
Also known as dockless electric scooters or e-scooters, the narrow, two-wheeled devices can be rented through smartphone apps that charge by the mile. They’re considered an alternative transportation mode for short trips in urban areas. At least four rental companies operate in Atlanta, including California-based Lime and Bird.
Athens and Marietta are the only reported cities in Georgia that have banned scooters. In February, Marietta voted to prohibit scooter rental companies from operating in the city, which city officials worried would ruin the city’s walkability and crowd sidewalks.
Since early 2018, Atlanta has seen a surge in the number of scooters buzzing around the city, but they had operated with few regulations. Some cities require users to have a permit or be at least 18 to ride scooters. In January, the Atlanta City Council enacted new rules prohibiting scooters from sidewalks and limiting their speed to 15 mph. A video showing a man riding a scooter on the Downtown Connector appeared on social media, illustrating the potential dangers.
Two bills in the Georgia Legislature could bring statewide regulation to electric bikes and scooters if they pass by the end of the session. Neither bill would pre-empt local regulations. One bill would prohibit users from parking the devices on sidewalks and other places where they would obstruct pedestrians or vehicles. A second bill would allow electric bikes capable of traveling no more than 20 mph to travel on bike paths, but it would prohibit faster ones from using those paths.
Moore, Atlanta City Council president, decided a system was needed to track the city’s scooter injuries after reading news reports about accidents, including one about a Fort Lauderdale woman left in a vegetative state after colliding with a car while riding a scooter.
“Then I started receiving emails from people – a couple of them nurses – saying you all need to look at these scooter injuries,” Moore told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It got to the point where I said there’s something going on.”
How the hospitals will submit the data has not been determined, but Moore said the information will be limited to the number and type of injuries received and will not include patient names or other personal information.
“I just want us to be aware of the number of injuries,” Moore said. “That awareness could lead to other changes.” But Moore stopped short of saying if this could lead to helmet requirements.
A similar safety study is underway in Austin, Texas through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study will focus on scooter-related injuries in Austin between September and November 2018, using public health data collected at hospitals. Moore said she has spoken with CDC officials and is considering asking the federal agency to help Atlanta’s efforts.
Grady Memorial Hospital’s chief of emergency medicine Dr. Hany Atallah told the AJC that the number of scooter injuries is difficult for hospitals to track.
“The problem right now is scooter injuries are lumped into a “motorized wheel device” billing code, making it difficult to separate it out from other wheeled devices,” Atallah said, adding the hospital will work to comply with the City Council’s request.
In a statement to the AJC, Lime said safety is a concern for its riders and so the company will distribute $250,000 in free helmets as part of their safety efforts. “We look forward to working with the City of Atlanta, the medical community and regulators to create a meaningful transportation ecosystem that is clean, efficient and safe,” the company said.
Bird declined to be interviewed but issued a statement saying they encourage riders to wear helmets — claiming they’ve given 65,000 away for free.
Councilman Dustin Hillis, chair of the city’s public safety committee, said previous safety measures by the council were opposed by scooter rental companies, which argued potential riders aren’t carrying around helmets in anticipation of riding scooters.
As a critical care nurse at Emory University Hospital, Hillis supports safety restrictions for scooters, which he says pose a safety challenge to riders due in part to their small wheels and reported brake issues.
“I know when I go out, I would certainly have a helmet on,” he said. “To me, these vehicles can be more dangerous than a bicycle.”
Atallah said news coverage and injuries seen at Grady prompted the hospital to partner with researchers at the Emory School of Medicine to investigate them.
Atallah is hoping the data leads to legislation requiring scooter riders to wear a helmet.
“We want to keep our community safe,” he said. “Brain injuries take a long time and may not heal as well as opposed to a broken arm or leg.”
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