E-bike injury rates are rising in some places, with scooter-related injuries expected to increase further this summer
Over the past month, Sharp Coronado Hospital’s emergency department has seen an increase in the number of e-bikers coming through its doors.
Although she didn’t have any official statistics to fully pinpoint the trend, Dr. Megan DeMott, an emergency specialist at the area’s only island medical center, said the trend was pretty clear: Most are vacationers who decided to rent a bike and venture off the city bike path to reach popular destinations served only by regular roads, often filled with cars.
“When I see them, they’ve had some sort of intersection with a car, usually,” she said. “They can be a little unexpected for riders, because they don’t necessarily expect a bike to go as fast as e-bikes can go.”
Usually, she says, the outcome is predictable. While e-bikes are heavier and can accelerate faster than traditional cycles due to their built-in electric motors and on-board rechargeable batteries, even relatively low-speed collisions with cars tend to play out the way they do. when traditional pedal pushers are involved.
“We definitely saw extremity fractures and, very often, head injuries,” DeMott said. “It gets a lot busier here in the summer months, and I anticipate we’ll see even more of these sorts of injuries.”
Coronado law enforcement was recently forced to intensify speed limit enforcement on its portion of San Diego’s Bayshore Bike Path due to the 24-mile thoroughfare exceeding the 15 mph speed limit, while the city of Carlsbad recently passed a new ordinance to motorized mobility devices after documenting an increase in collisions, prohibiting use on public sidewalks, drainage ditches, culverts, canals, sports fields and gymnasiums.
The upward trend clearly started with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic which provided an unprecedented opportunity to cycle on public roads abnormally devoid of automobiles. Sales of bikes of all kinds, and especially e-bikes, surged and year-long waiting lists quickly formed. Fast forward to the spring of 2022 and there’s new interest in anything that can move a person without burning gallon after gallon of very expensive gasoline.
Although e-bikes share the same propulsion technology as e-scooters, the health consequences they cause appear, so far at least, to be somewhat less severe.
The trauma unit at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest has seen a sharp resurgence in scooter chaos as pandemic restrictions ease and smartphone-hireable two-wheeled rides can once again be seen everywhere in popular locations , especially downtown San Diego. Mercy documented 52 cases of scooter-related injuries in 2021 after treating just 9 in 2020. This last year’s number is the highest on record, with 43 in 2019 and 37 in 2018.
Dr. Vishal Bansal, director of trauma surgery at Scripps, said about half of scooter-related injuries serious enough to be classified as traumatic involve intoxication of one type or another, and the consequences can be durable enough, especially for those with brain pain. wounds. Recovery times for head injuries tend to be quite long.
“They usually never go back to normal, it takes months or even years – sometimes never – to fully recover the brain,” he said.
Dr. Leslie Kobayashi, a trauma surgeon at UCSD Medical Center, also in Hillcrest, echoed the observations of his Scripps colleagues. Typically, there are about half a dozen scooter-related trauma cases a month, but that rate jumped to a dozen to 25 cases a month last summer.
“This summer is really going to be the test of what’s going to happen now that pandemic restrictions are lifted, scooters are back and the weather is warming up,” she said.
Neither doctor said they remembered a recent increase in trauma cases among cyclists, which some speculate could be because e-bikers may be more likely to wear helmets. DeMott, Coronado’s emergency specialist, said most of the e-bike injuries she’s treated recently were wearing helmets when they arrived, and none had injuries serious enough to transfer to the trauma center at the hospital. ‘UCSD who is in charge of handling all these cases. in Coronado.
It is also clear that the healthcare system is not yet set up to detect when an e-bike is involved in a traumatic injury. These vehicles are so new that there is no distinction between electric and analog in the codes that first responders use to document injuries.
“We capture the fact that it was a bicycle, but we don’t always get the granular information that it was an e-bike,” Bansal said. “I suspect there is some degree of injury from these things, but we just don’t have that data to be able to say one way or another at this stage.”
There is also a growing interest in the safety of e-bikes.
The San Diego Bicycle Coalition has seen wide turnout for the e-bike classes it hosts across the region, with 1,000 high school students from Encinitas tuning in to a recent Zoom-based symposium and a new collaboration with the American Automobile Association. .
Kevin Baross, head of coalition education programs and a cycling instructor with the League of American Cyclists since he was 18, said the instruction includes cementing how e-bikes are meant to be. used and a reminder of the rules of the road which are the same for e-bikes as they are for traditional muscle-only varieties. State law, he noted, gives cyclists the unequivocal right to use the roads, as long as they keep to the right “as much as possible.” Parked cars can push bikes into the flow of car traffic with mixed results.
The problems, Baross said, tend to occur when four-wheeled vehicle drivers are distracted or speeding and when cyclists behave unpredictably. Those not used to being so close to cars and trucks, he said, may seek to downplay their presence and may also be unclear that when mixing with cars of 3,000 pounds, they must obey the same conventions, especially when it comes to stop signs.
“You wouldn’t be riding through stop signs, you wouldn’t be riding through the gutter, you’d be in the lane of traffic in a way that makes you predictable and people know what you’re going to do next. “, Baross said. “A lot of times when people find themselves in these problematic situations, it’s because they assume they can act in a way that’s not the same as they would act if they were in a vehicle.
“They assume people will see them coming and walk away or they assume they can walk around someone without them even noticing they were there in the first place. These are the situations that will cause problems. Acting in a way that makes you visible, acting in a way that makes you predictable, that’s pretty much always going to be the best idea.