LOS ANGELES -- Electric scooters have exploded in popularity over the last two years, but new research about scooter accidents and injuries underscores how few riders are actually wearing helmets.
In a newly published study, UCLA researchers found that, of the more than 220 scooter-riding patients admitted to two West Los Angeles emergency departments in connection with scooter accidents in a one-year period, only 4 percent reported wearing helmets at the time of their accident.
The 228 patients who were riding a scooter at the time they were injured were divided into three categories based on the nature of their injuries: 40 percent sustained head injuries, 32 percent suffered bone fractures and the remaining 28 percent had cuts, sprains or bruises but no head injury. The vast majority of the injuries were caused by riders falling off scooters, though some were involved in collisions.
One-third of the patients in the overall study, which also included non-riders injured by a scooter, had injuries so severe that they were transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Fifteen emergency room patients were admitted to the hospital for further care, while two required treatment in an intensive care unit.
Study authors then conducted their own follow-up survey, spending seven hours at a Los Angeles intersection and finding that 94 percent of scooter riders they saw were not wearing helmets.
Though riders are encouraged to wear helmets at all times, scooter safety laws vary by jurisdiction. In California, where the research was conducted, only minors are required to wear helmets on electric scooters.
Scooter-sharing companies like Bird and Lime are among those credited with popularizing electric scooters, which are billed as economical, convenient and eco-friendly. The two companies combined operate in more than 100 markets and have facilitated millions of rides in two years.
"There are thousands of riders now using these scooters, so it's more important than ever to understand their impact on public health," Dr. Tarak Trivedi, the study's lead author, said in a news release.
Both Bird and Lime encourage riders to wear helmets even when not required by law and have programs offering free helmets for riders.
Paul Steely White, Bird's director of safety policy and advocacy, said in a statement to ABC that the research "fails to put e-scooter injuries into context as they relate to the high number and severity of injuries and deaths caused by motorcycles and automobiles."
"We hope to have the opportunity to work with the report's authors so that we can have a productive and collaborative conversation that focuses on proven preventative measures and education," he added.
Trivedi's research is published in the Jan. 25 edition of the scholarly journal JAMA Network Open.