E-scooter riders nearly always drunk when they crash at night, study finds

·3-min read
E-scooters - Dominic Lipinski/PA
E-scooters - Dominic Lipinski/PA

Electric scooter riders are nearly always drunk when they are injured in crashes at night, research has found, as experts pleaded for riders to wear helmets and abstain from alcohol.

E-scooters have soared in popularity in recent years, with many British towns and cities now trialling on-street loan schemes similar to public bicycle hire programmes.

But Norwegian researchers have found marked differences in injuries sustained by scooter users compared with cyclists, e-scooter patients suffered more head and neck injuries which were often linked to intoxication and a lack of helmets.

A study of 3,191 patients involved in either bike or scooter accidents in Oslo found that four in 10 of all injuries on scooters involved intoxicated riders compared with just one in 10 for cyclists.

'Riders younger than bicyclists'

And at night, more than nine in 10 of injured scooter users were drunk compared with 69 per cent of the cyclists.

Writing in the journal Jama Network Open, first author Dr August Stray, of the department of maxillofacial surgery at Oslo University Hospital, said: “E-scooter riders were younger than bicyclists, did not use helmets, were more often intoxicated, and were more often injured during night time.

“The rate of intoxication among e-scooter riders injured at night was high. Preventive measures, including awareness campaigns, regulating e-scooter availability, improving infrastructure and implementing stricter helmet and alcohol policies, may prove effective for reducing injuries.”

E-scooters are subject to the same drink-driving rules as other motor vehicles in Britain but the law is rarely enforced and the UK is one of the only major economies not to bring in specific legislation for their use.

Currently e-scooters can only be used on private land, unless they are part of 32 government-backed trials in areas including London, Liverpool and Bristol.

The upcoming Transport Bill will include proposals to permit all private scooters to use roads and cycle lanes in the UK.

But figures released in May show that injuries caused by e-scooters in Britain have soared, with 1,359 injured in accidents in 2021, a three-fold rise since 2020. Nine people were killed while 390 were seriously injured including three who suffered a broken neck or back.

Men were far more likely to be involved in e-scooter accidents than women, with injuries peaking at around 5pm and remaining high until around 8pm.

The new study, conducted between Jan 2019 and March 2020, found that nearly one in three e-scooter patients admitted to Oslo University Hospital had suffered a head or neck injury compared with fewer than one quarter of cyclists.

And while 62 per cent of cyclists wore a helmet, just two per cent of scooter users had been sporting protective headgear when they had their crash. The experts said the lack of helmets was likely to be a factor for the extra head and neck injuries sustained.

The research also found that two-thirds of e-scooter injuries occurred after 5pm compared with bicycle injuries, where 61 per cent happened between 6am and 5pm.

No need to change clothing

Experts said that e-scooter use was often more spontaneous than cycles because they were a “passive form of transport” which required minimal physical effort, and no need to change clothing or freshen up after a ride, making them a convenient alternative for unplanned travel.

Researchers warned: “Unplanned travel is more likely to occur outside working hours, such as travelling to or from a social happening.

“Riding while intoxicated and low adherence to helmet use could also be associated with instant availability.”

The University of Warwick is calling for new laws for powered micro vehicles, including e-scooters, which would require their registration, ban their use on pavements, bring in speed limits and set minimum age requirements.

John Fox, programme director at Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick, said “It’s important that these vehicles are high quality, safe, and legal.”