[By CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN] On bustling Saturday nights in Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Jason Mansour often encounters emergency room patients with a fractured skull or blood seeping from the head after an electronic scooter accident. “If you fall, it’s your body or your head versus the ground,” said Mansour, an emergency care physician at Broward Health Medical Center, where more than 100 people have arrived by ambulance from scooter injuries in the last year, a third of them with head injuries. Head and facial injuries from riding electric scooters have tripled over the past decade as ridership has increased and helmets remain optional, studies show. Mansour believes most people still don’t recognize the danger from electronic scooters, even as emergency rooms treat concussions and brain hemorrhages. “It’s rare that riders are wearing helmets or other protective equipment and there is little to protect you from serious harm,” Mansour said. Recent national studies document the extent of serious head injuries from electronic scooters, which are double the number experienced by bicyclists. In surveying 39,000 scooter riders nationwide who went to the emergency room with injuries in 2018, researchers from the University of California found more than a third had head injuries. The trend is seen in South Florida as more scooter riders hit the streets in the handful of cities where they are allowed. The challenge: few riders wear helmets. According to the national study, only 2% to 4% of injured scooter riders were wearing a helmet when they got hurt. In addition, another 2019 study looking at shared e-scooter related injuries from Austin Public Health, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found only one of 190 injured scooter riders in Austin was wearing a helmet at the time of injury. The law In Florida, scooter drivers must be 16 or older with a valid driver’s license. Riders are not required to wear helmets as long as the scooter does not exceed 30 miles per hour. The law says riders can operate scooters on sidewalks, bicycle paths or in the roadway, and must obey the same traffic laws as bicyclists. In cities like Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Key Biscayne, Miami Lakes, Coral Gables and West Palm Beach, riders grab an e-scooter off the side of the road, unlock it with an app and pay a base fare and per-minute charge. Helmets aren’t available to rent with the electronic scooters and most often, riders hop on spontaneously without considering a helmet. Fort Lauderdale Fire & Rescue doesn’t track how many of the injured were wearing helmets, but responders see the result of riders who have a drink or two and impulsively jump on a scooter for fun — without head protection. On East Las Olas Boulevard, where cars jam the streets and people stroll on sidewalks, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue responded to more than 25 serious electronic scooter accidents in 2019 that required the injured person to be transported to Broward Health Medical Center. “Without a doubt, if not you are not wearing a helmet and riding these scooters, your likelihood of severe injury is so much greater,” said Steven Gollan, a spokesperson for Fort Lauderdale Fire & Rescue. Dockless scooters have been in South Florida on and off since early 2018. Scooter companies now operate in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach, along with a few suburbs in Miami-Dade County. Lime told the Sun Sentinel that consumer demand remains strong in Florida and it has had 900,000 trips on its scooters. Cities say these pay-by-use scooters offer an alternative method of transportation. Yet they also have drawn public safety concerns as accidents keep mounting. In total, there were 146 accidents in Fort Lauderdale in the last year and 87 in Miami from April 2019 to mid-January. The injured Ashanti Jordan is one of the more severely injured. She jumped on a scooter after a shift at work. Most days, the 27-year-old security guard at Broward Health got a ride home from co-workers. But when she couldn’t get a ride, she decided she would make the four-mile journey home on a Lime scooter. Jordan, riding in the street and not wearing a helmet, was about halfway home when she collided with a Toyota Corolla at an intersection in a residential area. She now lies in a vegetative state at Broward Health Medical Center with a fractured skull, a severe brain injury and multiple broken ribs. Doctors also had to remove a portion of her skull. Her family has been warning people that scooters are dangerous and the companies who rent them are not being clear about where to ride the scooters. “People need to know and understand riding a scooter is very dangerous for people who don’t do it regularly,” said Todd Falzone of Fort Lauderdale’s Kelley Uustal, who is representing Jordan in a lawsuit against Neutron Holdings, also known as Lime. “We’re not talking about a toy that if you fall you scrape your knee. People need to know what happened to my client. Your life can end operating these scooters.” Falzone said putting riders in the streets with cars puts them in danger for more than just scuffed knees and bruised elbows. “Our infrastructure is not ready for this technology. There is no safe place to operate scooters in South Florida,” he said But it’s not just street traffic that leads to head injuries. Some say the dramatic expansion of scooter rental companies has led to parts shortages and maintenance issues that have resulted in broken bones, bleeding heads and lawsuits. When Maria Carla Cassola wanted to meet friends for dinner on Brickell Avenue in Miami, the 26-year-old hopped on a Lime scooter. Shortly into her ride, Cassola says the brakes failed as she approached a busy street crossing, and when she tried to steady herself, she fell backward, banging her head on the concrete. In a lawsuit against the Lime’s owner, Neutron Holdings, Cassola claims the brake failure caused her to use her foot to stop the scooter at a red light, which resulted in the backward fall. She says her scooter app had indicated a “maintenance required” notice before the accident, but a Lime employee distributing the scooters from the back of a truck overrode the warning and told her the scooter was safe. Cassola, who was treated at a hospital for her head injury, said Lime did not provide her a helmet. “We believe it’s their duty to provide helmets for riders,” said Alexander Esteban, Cassola’s attorney. The helmet challenge As injuries surge along with scooter popularity, wearing a helmet has not been an easy habit to instill — not just in Florida but around the country. Scooter companies Lime and Bird say they’ve stepped up their safety programs, offering helmets and distributing rules of the road to prevent accidents. Bird says although the company has given away more than 75,000 helmets nationwide in the last 18 months, availability did not result in riders wearing them. Now, the company is trying to encourage more people to protect their heads. Bird scooters recently launched its Helmet Selfie campaign in Miami to incentivize people to wear head protection leading up to the Super Bowl. “As over one million fans and potential riders arrive in Miami, Bird wants to encourage responsible riding before the Big Game,” the company said in a written release. Riders can receive future credits by taking a helmeted self-portrait photo in the app at the end of the ride. Bird began the pilot program in Washington D.C. in November, with Miami becoming the fifth city where the helmet safety campaign rolled out. Paul Steely White, Bird’s Director of Safety Policy & Advocacy, acknowledged the concerns about head injuries from electronic scooters in a written release. “… We want to help improve adoption around helmet usage to reduce injury severity in the event of an incident,” he said. Accident triggers Part of the problem behind injuries, experts say, is that roads and sidewalks aren’t designed for the new transportation mode. By driving on South Florida streets, scooter riders more easily come into contact with moving cars, which puts them at greater risk of serious injury such as head trauma. While research related to shared e-scooters has just started to be reviewed, Consumer Reports noted that 75% of the known fatalities with shared e-scooters were due to collisions with cars. Along with car traffic, lawsuits in Broward County also reflect issues with scooter malfunction that has led to accidents and injuries. The waiver Those injured are discovering their recourses are limited. When people rent a scooter, they agree to the terms and conditions that are not clarified in the app but accessible through a hyperlink. The terms for Lime scooters include a waiver that dismisses all legal rights to sue in Florida and have a jury trial. Instead, Lime requires injured riders to arbitrate a claim in California, where the most they can be compensated is $100. “If people understood the nature of the risk and the waiver they are agreeing to, I don’t think people would get on them,” Falzone said. Jordan’s lawsuit will challenge the validity of the waiver and a Broward judge will decide in February whether the injured woman’s case will be tried by a jury in Broward County. The outcome could set a precedent for others to invalidate the waiver. “People are getting thrown around and ending up with brain injuries,” Falzone said. “Cities would love to reduce the vehicles on the road but the option has got to be safe.”


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