Risky Ride

From the Fall 2019 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

There’s a fierce debate raging in the new Nashville – whether the influx of a growing number of electric scooters is a fun addition for tourists and residents or a dangerous trend that affects public safety.

In July, after some Metro Nashville Council members called for a complete ban of electric scooters on Nashville streets, the Council voted to allow them to stay until a selection process authorizes up to three companies to operate in the city.

The approval came with changes, however. Companies will have to cut their fleets in half immediately, and there can be no scooter rides after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center emergency medicine physicians have seen about 250 scooter-related injuries over the past year, said Tyler Barrett, MD, MSCI, associate professor of Medicine and medical director of the VUMC Adult Emergency Department. There have been as many as 10-15 a week when the weather is warmer and more tourists are in town.

It is estimated that there are about 4,000 scooters operated in Nashville by seven companies.

“The vast majority of the scooter injuries treated in the ED include orthopaedic injuries such as fractured bones or joint dislocations, facial lacerations, fractured facial bones and head trauma (that ranges from concussions to severe traumatic brain injuries),” Barrett said.

“My experience is that most are either hitting objects like potholes in the road or losing their balance,” he said. “To my knowledge, none of the patients that we have treated were wearing a helmet which very well might have prevented many of the head injuries. A number are complicated by alcohol intoxication impacting their ability to ride. I think that only a handful, so far, have been scooter vs. vehicle,” he said.

However, a 26-year-old Nashville resident died in May when he was riding a scooter and struck by a car. Police said he improperly turned left into a roadway from a sidewalk and into the path of a car.

July’s Metro Council vote resulted in several changes to Nashville’s scooter regulations including creating “slow zones” and “no ride zones” on Metro greenways and in Metro parks, except on paved streets, and mandating companies to provide “reasonable” helmet and other safety education activities. Each scooter company needs to also have two employees for every 100 scooters to address blocked sidewalks, respond to complaints, etc.

There is a back-up in place in case the new regulations don’t work. The council will consider an all-out ban on scooters at the end of August. If the new rules aren’t working, the council will be able to take immediate action to get rid of scooters for good.

VUMC Emergency Department physicians welcome the regulations.

“The patients I most worry about are the pedestrians struck by individuals on scooters driving recklessly,” Barrett said. “Those people are at risk for serious injuries when unexpectedly struck by a scooter. Many of these injuries to scooter riders and other pedestrians could be prevented with three simple actions: wear a helmet; limit your speed; and obey the rules, especially not riding on sidewalks in commercial areas.”

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