Chicago is Getting Electric Scooters – But Are They Safe?

Chicago is rolling out an electric scooter pilot program this summer, but a recent government study of the shared scooter system in Austin, Texas, underscores the importance of riders wearing helmets. 

From June 15 to October 15, between 2,500 and 3,500 dockless electric scooters will be available in the program’s service area on the city’s West and Northwest sides.

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Dockless scooters can be activated via mobile phone and unlike a Divvy bike, which is returned to a docking station, the scooters can be parked anywhere following a ride. (Within reason, of course – the scooters are subject to “the same parking requirements of a regular private bicycle,” according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.)

Soon after Chicago announced its scooter pilot program, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Austin Public Health Department provided insight into possible dangers posed by the transportation mode.

For nearly three months in late 2018, researchers investigated scooter-related injuries in Austin, Texas, where electric shared scooters first appeared in April 2018.

The study found 190 scooter riders were injured in Austin from Sept. 5 through Nov. 30, 2018 – nearly half (48 percent) of those injuries were head injuries; and one-third of injured riders were on a scooter for the first time when they got hurt. More than a third (35 percent) fractured a bone.

CDOT indicated multiple third-party vendor scooter-share companies, like Lime and Bird, might provide scooters in Chicago. The deadline for those companies to apply for eligibility is May 8.

Electric scooters by companies like Lime reach a top speed of about 15 mph on flat terrain – and the CDC highlights the need for helmets. 

Several of the study’s injured riders (about 15 percent) sustained injuries suggestive of traumatic brain injury. Less than 1 percent of injured riders were wearing helmets.

Joining us to provide his perspective on electric scooters and the upcoming program in Chicago is John Greenfield, editor of Streetsblog Chicago and transportation columnist for the Chicago Reader.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter@EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

Scooter Sharing: How It Works, and Why Some Are Worried

Chicago’s Divvy Divide: Convenient Bike-Share Program or Sign of Gentrification?

Public Transit Outlook: Leaders Talk Infrastructure, Funding Needs

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