A scooter operatior crosses Alamo Street at Commerce.
Electric scooter riders cross Alamo Street at Commerce. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Fractures, head injuries, cuts, and bruises are among the injuries sustained by electric scooter riders during the last four months, according to emergency calls received by the San Antonio Fire Department.

The fire department responded to 83 calls from people who either sustained injuries or witnessed mishaps; nearly two-thirds resulted in transport to area emergency rooms.

SAFD began collecting injury data Sept. 25 following an uptick in emergency calls since the first electric scooters appeared on downtown streets in June.

SAFD data on scooter-related injuries represents a small fraction of the injuries sustained by riders zipping throughout the streets of San Antonio at speeds up to 15 miles per hour. A local, free-standing emergency room on lower Broadway recently reported seeing anywhere from one to three patients with scooter-related injuries per day.

With more than 14,000 permitted vehicles and about two-thirds of them on San Antonio streets every day, mostly in the urban core, the opportunity for scooter-related accidents are at the turn of every corner.

“We can cast a broken arm, but the thing that presents the greatest concern is the potential for brain or spinal cord injury,” said Jennifer Northway, director of adult and pediatric injury prevention at University Health System.

Two people sharing a scooter, especially an adult and a child; riding without a helmet, and riders being unfamiliar with downtown San Antonio’s one-way streets contribute to the rash of injuries, she said.

For their part, dockless vehicle companies Bird, Lime, Razor, and Blue Duck ask riders to abide by traffic laws and speed limits, ride in designated areas, wear a helmet, use caution, and watch for pedestrians. Other operator rules vary by company, and include an 18-year-old age minimum for riders, one person per scooter, to not ride after drinking alcohol, and to refrain from using the phone while riding.

However, the fire department data shows that among the injured are young teenagers and people who reported consuming alcohol before the ride. For those who were reported to have lost consciousness after falling off the scooter sent them flying head-first into the nearest tree, car, or sidewalk, helmets might have lessened the severity or injuries.

A rider uses an electric scooter on sidewalks near Main Plaza.
A rider uses an electric scooter on a sidewalk near Main Plaza. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On a recent afternoon, Adam Garcia and his younger brother were preparing to board Bird scooters that would take them from Blue Star Arts Complex into downtown by way of the San Antonio River Walk. Asked if he had ever been injured when riding, Garcia, a frequent scooter user, said he had not, but there had been close calls.

“I try to ride on surfaces that are smooth and flat [to be safe], but if it had rained and there’s mud, or if you turn too [quickly] … it’s easy to fall,” Garcia said, noting that he has friends who sustained minor injuries after taking a tumble.

Neither Garcia nor his brother were wearing helmets. Asked if he would wear helmet if it was required, he said “maybe,” followed quickly by “no.”

“If I’m saying the truth, I really don’t think I would,” he said.

As e-scooters have proliferated in warm-weather cities, health researchers are beginning to track injuries. A new study published Friday found that of 249 people seen in two Southern California hospitals within a year following electric scooter accidents, 92 percent were riders themselves, and only 4 percent of the riders wore helmets. Head injuries were the most common complaint at 40 percent, followed by fractures at 32 percent, and cuts, sprains, or bruises at 28 percent.

The research, published in Open Network – one of 13 journals published by the American Medical Association – is the first published medical study on injuries caused by electric scooters.

An increase in emergency room visits in San Antonio and elsewhere has prompted conversations among health care providers about petitioning to add new diagnostic codes for scooter-related injuries for medical billing and coding. Currently, electric scooter accidents are recorded under various codes and categories, making it difficult to determine exactly how many people were injured on the dockless vehicles, Northway said.

“All of the hospitals in San Antonio have been trying to figure out what we can do collectively to address the issue we are seeing with [electric] scooters, what we can do to quantify the injuries we are seeing across facilities, and what populations they are affecting,” Northway said. “Once we have those data points, we can better see how big of a trend this is.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.