E-scooter accidents sent hundreds of people to Calgary ERs this summer, despite safety improvements

A ripped-off ear, a broken jaw, a shattered chin and $20,000 in dental work — all because of one fall from an e-scooter.

Kelsey Fossenier says it’s been more than a year since she was thrown from an e-scooter in downtown Calgary but she’s still paying for the accident, both physically and financially.

She says she fell when her scooter’s wheel hit a broken parking barrier, crushing her face on a slab of cement.

“I haven’t been able to open my jaw the same ever since,” she said.

“I don’t ride them anymore ’cause even the littlest thing scares me, like, just a little crack in the road.”

She’s far from the only Calgarian to be badly hurt on e-scooters, although her injuries may be among the worst. At a very rough estimate, about one out of every 1,000 e-scooter rides in the city this summer ended up in injuries so severe that a hospital visit was required, researchers say. And that’s despite the city’s efforts to make the devices safer when it approved their permanent use after a two-year pilot project.

The latest numbers on e-scooter use

There have been 675 crashes involving scooters that required an emergency room visit in Calgary from May 28 — when the city gave the go-ahead for e-scooters to resume rentals — to Aug. 24, according to an ongoing study.

Stephanie VandenBerg is a University of Calgary clinical assistant professor involved in the study that has been tracking the number of e-scooter accidents reported by Alberta Health Services.

She says they’re still crunching the numbers but based on previous years’ data, about 10 per cent of those accidents likely involved seated mobility scooters rather than e-scooters — meaning roughly 607 crashes this summer.

And while that is still a small portion compared to the total number of rides, which according to the latest numbers available from the city is 377,910 trips taken from May 28 to July 31, there is still cause for concern.

The researcher, who is also an emergency physician with AHS, says out of those accidents, around 138 were head injuries like face lacerations, concussions and jaw fractures.

“As an emergency physician and someone with some real-world experience, we can certainly say that helmets prevent skull fractures,” she said. “So from a helmet point of view, helmets would save heads and we would encourage them for, you know, anybody who’s operating anything that moves faster than a walk.”

  • To get a sense of the range of injuries that Calgarians have incurred while riding e-scooters and how they happened, check out the photos shared with CBC Calgary below. Warning: Some images are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.

VandenBerg acknowledges that e-scooter injuries only account for 3.6 per cent of traumas seen in the emergency centre during the summer.

“It’s relatively uncommon in the grand scheme of things when you consider everybody who’s getting hurt from sports accidents to motor vehicle collisions to bicycles,” she said.

However, she says what’s interesting is that most of the injuries on e-scooters seem completely preventable.

“There really is no reason why people are getting injured on e-scooters, except that there isn’t the infrastructure to keep them safe on an e-scooter or people are scooting dangerously,” she said.

“And that includes being intoxicated, not wearing a helmet, having two people on an e-scooter. So there’s ways to prevent most of these injuries.”

Valeria Beltran, who works downtown, would second that.

“I see a lot of people on those scooters and people mostly use them to get from point A to point B after the bars, so a lot of intoxicated people have been on them.”

She herself is still recovering from a scooter accident at a downtown park on a Sunday afternoon two months ago that broke three bones in her ankle. She needed surgery and was unable to walk for eight weeks.

“I was going downhill, hit a bump and lost control. I obviously fell off the scooter and the way I landed my foot, just fractured it. My foot was basically out of place, like it was popping out,” she said.

Safety changes

Beltran’s accident happened despite improved safety measures instituted by the city after a two-year pilot project.

This past spring, it was announced that scooters were here to stay and that the companies, Bird Canada and Neuron Mobility were the chosen operators to put a combined fleet of 1,500 permanent scooters on Calgary roads and adhere to a variety of changes.

For example, e-scooters used to be only allowed in protected mobility lanes  — like the city’s pathway system and sidewalks — but now they can ride on quiet roads in order to help limit pedestrian-scooter conflicts.

The City of Calgary also said that the speed and number of devices available were capped in a variety of high-traffic areas, like Eau Claire, Inglewood, Stephen Avenue and Kensington.  

“Geofencing” was also implemented, which is a technology that would slow the machines to a crawl and prevent them from being parked in areas that are off-limits.

Scooter companies also took it upon themselves to add some safety measures — like Neuron Mobility, which included a helmet with each scooter, despite them not being mandatory in Calgary.

“We want to promote safe riding etiquettes. We’ve seen that over the last two months, the usage of helmets has been increasing,” said Ankush Karwal, expansion manager at Neuron Mobility.

Solutions

At this time the city has no plans to change the e-scooter program, but did say they plan to continue to monitor activities, reports and statistics from the e-scooters and will introduce further changes if necessary.

Despite the number of injuries that have been reported, VandenBerg doesn’t believe the solution is to ban the devices.

“What we know from reviewing other studies in other parts of North America, largely in the United States, we have learned that these e-scooters are too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for the road,” she said.

“Hypothetically speaking, if there was some type of path or place for them in the larger scheme of motor vehicles, then that perhaps could make them safer for users.

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