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Require helmets for scooter riders

The electric Bird and Lime scooters have become wildly popular since they hit Baltimore streets but some riders are discovering they can be hazardous. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)

Christopher Conti, the president of a Georgia-based fitness company, was killed in March after he crashed a rented electric scooter — like those littering the sidewalks of Baltimore — into a tree in San Diego.

He, like most people riding such scooters, was not wearing a helmet.

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His death, and the thousands of other injuries reported throughout the country from using these devices, highlight a larger problem in the U.S.: Technology is out of step with safety.

A recent CDC report found that for people involved in electric scooter crashes, 48 percent of injuries were head trauma. One out of every five injured riders had evidence of traumatic brain injury. Nearly half of the injured riders had a severe injury, such as bone fractures, severe bleeding or sustained organ damage, which means long hospital stays. This was similar to another study published recently in JAMA. The most common injuries were head injuries (40 percent), followed by fractures (32 percent). At least 1,545 injuries in the U.S. involved electric scooters over the past year.

The proposed law says the violation of any of its provisions or rules subsequently imposed by the Transportation Department would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. (Baltimore Sun video)

Sharing a helmet is a model that's been shown to work in other regions. In Melbourne, Australia, a bike-share company attaches a helmet to the bicycle for use while riding. Why can't this be done with e-scooters?

If sharing a helmet isn't your thing, new helmet designs are easy to take with you. For example Swedish firm Hövding has one that looks like a neck warmer, but inflates into an airbag that cradles the head upon impact.

These micromobility devices can certainly mitigate transportation challenges — such as congestion, emissions and access — for short trips to fill transit gaps. But we should make sure our riders are safe by adopting legislation that requires helmets and by working with industry to develop better options to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries.

The CDC report also found that the majority of people injured from electric scooters were not wearing helmets — less than 1 percent. Why? They largely don't have to. In California, a helmet is required for riders under 18, and in Maryland, for those under 16. But most of the injured riders were between the ages of 18 and 29.

Electric scooters have become increasingly popular since their initial pilot programs in 2017. They are eco-friendly and easy to use in urban contexts, replacing personal cars and ride-hailing options, according to a report from Portland, Ore. One out of three electric scooter users there said they chose scooters over other powered vehicle options; among tourists and visitors to the city, the figure was one in two. Another report released last month by the National Association of City Transportation Officials shows riders took 38.5 million trips on shared electric scooters in 2018, more than the 36.5 million trips on shared, docked bicycles.

While injuries on other modes of transportation vastly outnumber those on scooters, there also many more cars, motorcycles and bikes on the streets, making comparison difficult.

Simply put: every rider is vulnerable to head injury when using an electric scooter.

Dr. Sung Huang Laurent Tsai is an orthopedic physician studying public health and injury prevention at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school of public health.

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