Those E-Scooters Might Not Be as Dangerous as You Think
A civil engineer looks at traffic data to improve road safety
E-scooters continue to intrigue us. They’re new and unfamiliar, and they’re also everywhere. Perhaps this explains the sensationalized media coverage on e-scooters, much of which is driven by anecdotes of accidents. But an army of researchers has been itching to unveil empirical evidence to augment the e-scooter dialogue.
I am a soldier in this army.
At the center of the e-scooter controversy is safety. Let’s look at some recent headlines:
- “8 Deaths Now Tied to E-Scooters”
- “Electric scooter injuries jumped 222% over the past four years”
- “Electric scooters were to blame for at least 1,500 injuries and deaths in the U.S. last year”
Now, those headlines have to instill some fear. But road safety is not a simple matter that can be summarized in a headline. This is especially true for e-scooters because we don’t know much about them yet.
I started my PhD journey with a mission of answering the question “Are e-scooters safe?” Fast forward a year, and I am now convinced that the more appropriate question may be “Are our streets safe?” Let me tell you why.
The little we know about e-scooters
Katie Harmon and Laura Sandt at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center have been tracking fatal crashes involving e-scooters in the U.S. since late 2018. Of the 18 fatal crashes in 2019, 16 of them involved e-scooter riders killed from being struck by motor vehicles. One e-scooter fatality was a result of an e-scooter rider colliding with another rider. The remaining fatality resulted from a single-vehicle event where the e-scooter rider crashed into a tree. From these statistics, it’s difficult to decipher how much to attribute these terrible events to e-scooters and their riders versus how much to attribute to the general lack of safety for vulnerable road users.
The universal metric for road safety has been the number of crashes, which requires a three- to five-year observation period. Statistically speaking, crashes are rare and random, and with…