DC-area doctor advises caution for new users of electric scooters, bikes

Electric bikes and scooters are becoming more popular, and a D.C.-area surgeon cautions users to become familiar with new motorized modes of transportation before taking them into crowded urban settings.

“You just have to be very careful if you’re using them and realize that they are a pretty fun and pretty efficient way to get around,” said Dr. Robert D. Golden, chief of Orthopedic Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“But you’re moving pretty quickly on them. And if you come off of them pretty fast or jump off of them or fall off of them that there is a good chance that you’re going to have an injury,” added Golden.

He said that when people get hurt, it typically involves just the single rider. While that might not sound as serious as crashing with a car or into a walker — it still can be consequential.

“Somewhere around 30% or so of people who have injuries off scooters break something, break a bone — of those, it’s sort of split between upper extremities and lower extremities, arms and legs. Those all together are probably one of the more common injuries,” Golden said.

“There’s probably another 30% or 40% of people who have head injuries after falling off these things, and those can range from anything from just a very mild concussion that doesn’t really require a whole lot of treatment to, obviously, much more severe things,” he added.

Other consequences can include common scrapes, twists and sprains.

Patients seeking care might not necessarily be categorized as having a scooter-related injury, so Golden said studies looking for them might miss many.

However, one study of cases suggests there are more standing electric scooter-related injuries than are associated with cycling or walking.

The most common causes of crashes involving e-scooters and e-bikes are riders losing control. Golden said users with less experience might take turns too quickly or misjudge road conditions.

“There’s a fair number of them that just hit curbs or hit uneven patches in either the pavement or on sidewalks, and just get thrown off. The other sort of category are people who start using them and get uncomfortable with the speed that they’re going and sort of try to jump off instead of slowing them down to a stop and then dismounting,” Golden said.

He said his top recommendation to riders is to wear a helmet, which very few people do.

“The rate of helmet use on these is almost zero. And if you look at big studies, it’s only about 4% or 5% of people seem to use helmets on them,” he said.

Golden said it’s important to become familiar with how to use the scooters and bikes before using them as well.

“If you’re going to use one, you need to start very slowly and get used to it — get used to the speed, get used to handling it, how it turns and how fast you can go and how fast you can stop,” Golden said.

“And I would start that off very slowly. And then only once you really feel comfortable with it, then you could go into sort of more heavily trafficked areas with them.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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