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CDC Study Says Austin Scooter Riders Don't Wear Helmets, Ride Fast And Don't Know What They're Doing

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Nearly 200 people were injured because of rentable scooters between Sept. 5 and Nov. 30 last year, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Austin Public Health Department.

During that time, there were about 940,000 rides taken in Austin overall, according to the Austin Transportation Department. That results in a ratio of 20 injuries per 100,000 rides.

Overall, the study found 271 total injuries, but researchers confirmed only 192 injuries, two of which were to people who weren't riding. Of those 190 injured riders, a third were riding the rented scooters for the first time. Injuries included bone fractures, lacerations and abrasions. Half of those riders sustained some injury to their heads or were severely injured, yet only a single injured rider was wearing a helmet.

Roughly half of the injured riders were between 18 and 29 years old; 55% were riding on the street; and 77% of injuries occurred in the downtown area.

The study compiled Austin Travis County EMS incident reports and emergency room admission records. The Austin Public Health Department suggests better tracking of scooter-related injuries and increased education on safe-riding practices. About 40 percent of those interviewed said speed contributed to their injuries. 

At a briefing this morning, Transportation Department Director Rob Spillar said the scooters are a boon to commuters, helping them overcome what transportation advocates call the last-mile problem. But, he said, they're still a new mode of transportation and the injuries reflected in the study are akin to those of first-time bike riders. 

"We're learning how to use them, you know, and I think one of the data points is that a lot of the people that did get injured were first-time users," Spillar said. "[I'm] not validating that that's what happens when it's a new device, but remember when you first rode a bicycle, you probably fell off the first time. And that's not diminishing the significance of these incidents at all. It's just saying that you should expect that, and we continue to see better behavior as we go along."

Newness aside, the scooters have been popular. Jason JonMichael, assistant director of smart mobility for ATD, said the number of scooter rides in the study's timeframe was comparable to the number of car rides in that same time over distances between 0-3 miles in downtown Austin. He called the ratio of crashes to rides "statistically irrelevant."

The rentable scooters have been in Austin since April of last year. The Austin City Council passed rules capping the number of scooters per each provider shortly after that, but it's currently considering more comprehensive rules for riders, specifically. Council is set to take up those rules later this month.

Meanwhile at the Capitol, the Texas Senate OK'd rules yesterday to limit scooter speeds to 15 mph, require riders to be at least 16 years old and allow cities to ban scooters on sidewalks.

You can read the entire study below.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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