Electric scooters, or e-scooters, are a popular transportation trend popping up in cities around the country. They started off in big cities like New York and San Francisco, and now they’ve made their way to cities around Virginia, including Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Richmond. As more people ride them, more people get injured.

What are E-Scooters?

E-scooters look like adult-sized foot-powered scooters, but they have a battery-operated motor on them. You can unlock one using a phone app and use it to get to your destination. They are seen as easier than using a bike from a bike share station and may be cheaper than using a taxi or ride share.

What are the Dangers of E-Scooters?

Falls and collisions, with fellow scooter riders, bicyclists, pedestrians, and—most scary of all—with cars, are the major ways individuals get injured when on an e-scooter.

“Concussions, fractures, sprains, road rash, lacerations, and a variety of other musculoskeletal injuries are all possibilities [from a fall off a scooter]. Beyond these injuries, severe traumas and death have occurred as a result of scooter accidents,” says Cole Taylor, MD, a sports medicine specialist at OrthoVirginia. “I think people forget just how dangerous these things can be. They travel up to 15 mph and if you fall, you are going to get hurt.”

OrthoVirginia hand, wrist and elbow surgeon Peter Thomas, MD, has seen wrist fractures and elbow fractures in the past few months as scooters have been introduced into Northern Virginia. In addition to the pain of the injury, patients have had to take time off of work as their injuries heal.

And many don’t realize these injuries have long term implications. “For each case there is a risk of [osteoarthritis in the injured joint] later in life, as well as joint stiffness and restricted range of motion long-term,” warns Dr. Thomas.

Reducing Risks

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of getting hurt or of hurting others when you ride an e-scooter.

Wear a Helmet

Like bikes, Virginia state law does not require a helmet to be worn while on an e-scooter. Individual cities and counties may already have laws about bike helmets and may in the future adopt laws about scooter helmets. For safety, anyone using an e-scooter should wear a helmet. If you fall off and hit your head, you’re at risk of concussion and brain damage. A helmet can greatly reduce your risk.

Dock Scooters Out of the Way

Unlike bike shares, e-scooters are usually dockless and can be left unattended at your destination. Dockless scooters are often left on sidewalks or in doorways, which can cause hazards for other people. A scooter left in the middle of a sidewalk blocks access from anyone who cannot safely and easily remove it from the path, including people who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Scooters left around can be an obstacle for people pushing strollers or shopping carts and can be in the way of other people riding scooters or bicyclists.

Follow the Rules of the Road

“I think the largest common denominator [in e-scooter injuries] is not obeying local traffic laws, which is difficult as these devices are largely unregulated,” says Dr. Thomas. “For instance, bicyclists do have a set of laws that govern their use of bicycles, such as no sidewalks and obeying traffic signals. I have seen e-scooter riders simply ride through red lights in Crystal City.”

Cities and counties in Virginia have different rules about where scooters can and must be ridden. In some areas, you must ride in the bike lane; in others, you’re not allowed to ride in the bike lane. You may be allowed to ride on the sidewalk or you may not be. You’ll want to look up the laws for your specific jurisdiction to make sure that you’re following the laws for your area so you can stay safe on the road.

Don’t Drink and Scoot

Using scooters after drinking alcohol can increase your chances of falling off the scooter and getting injured.

Wear the Right Clothes

Sturdy closed-toe shoes that say on well, such as sneakers or loafers, are best for riding scooters. High heels can make you unsteady on the scooter, and sandals increase the risk that you’ll get injured. For people who wear long or flowing skirts or pants, you’ll want make to make sure that they can’t get caught in the scooter’s wheels.

Be safety-conscious when you use scooters to reduce your risk of injury. If you do get injured, you can visit your closest Ortho On Call urgent care or contact OrthoVirginia for an appointment.