Electric Scooters vs Bicycle Injuries

I’m a superfan of electric scooters. I’ve owned a personal electric scooter for over two years and can’t stop talking about the freedom it has given me. While there are a multitude of reasons for owning an electric scooter, there needs to be requisite thought about the drawbacks, one in particular – safety.

I recently wrote about the injury rate of scooter sharing vs bicycle sharing. Although one has a motor and the other doesn’t, I don’t believe that explains why 2.4 to 18X more people per trip are injured on electric scooter sharing than on bicycle sharing.

Reason 1: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Electric scooters have their recent history as kick scooters, made famous by the brand Razor in the early 2000’s. For 20 years we have ridden kick scooters as a toy, and all-of-a-sudden we see one on the street, not realizing these new devices are more akin with a motorcycle than the toy we used to know.

Unfortunately, it takes time to retrain our emotional memories, far longer than the impulsive decision to unlock this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Thinking of an object as a toy, rather than a dangerous commuting vehicle leads to more unsafe riding behaviour and hence, more injuries.

Compare this to a bicycle, which we primarily think of as a commuting vehicle rather than a toy. Furthermore, bicycles have been popular in our culture longer, which means our society has had more time to educate the public on the need for riding safe, having proper lighting, and wearing a helmet.

Reason 2: Inferior Tires

Smaller Electric Scooter Tires Have More Problems with Obstacles

Most electric scooters have tires measuring 6-8 inches in diameter. This is far smaller than the average bicycle tire of 25 inches. When encountering an obstacle the smaller tire (scooter) has a much harder time going over it.

The chart below shows the additional force needed by a scooter to overcome a step compared to a bicycle.  This graph was plotted assuming a 26″ bike wheel and 8″ scooter wheel.

Even for a 1 inch bump in the road, the scooter will need 50% more force to roll over it — and you’ll feel a much larger jolt. An unexpected pothole is more likely to turn you into an acrobat with the smaller scooter tire.

Lower End Airless Electric Scooter Tires Will Slide Easier

The type of tire you have also makes a huge difference in terms of safety.

Electric scooters have two types of tires, airless (solid) and air-filled (pneumatic) while bicycles only have pneumatic tires. When cornering or in slippery conditions such as rain, oil, or even the paint they use on bike paths, pneumatic tires perform much better.  Solid tires are made of hard rubbers or even plastics and have lower coefficient of friction compared to pneumatic tires.  Pneumatic tires are made of supple rubber which make better contact with the road surface and has a higher coefficient of friction, allowing it to grip better.

Reason 3: Lower Helmet Usage

The Portland Electric Scooter Pilot Study noted that 10% of scooter sharing riders wore a helmet. Seattle, in their safety report, said that 20% of their bike-share riders wore a helmet.

Again, this is not an apples to apples comparison, but early data would suggest bike-share riders wear a helmet twice as frequently as scooter sharing riders.

I’m not going into how helmets affect safety in regards to head trauma, but suffice it to say, bike-share users are more likely to use a helmet and therefore have less severe head injuries.

Reason 4: Inferior Braking Technology on Lower End Scooters

Better brakes will stop you faster and are more reliable. Bicycles have caliper brakes or better as standard equipment. Unfortunately many lower to mid-tier electric scooters come with only an electronic brake (a.k.a. regenerative/motor brake) and/or a foot-brake (a.k.a. friction brake). These are the two worst performing braking solutions. When an UBER driver suddenly cuts into the bike lane and then stops to drop off a passenger, you will want to have a brake that is able to stop before you become their next ride to the hospital.

Read more about the different type of electric scooter brakes.

Reason 5: Rear Lights Are Smaller and in Worse Position

Notice how small the rear light area is on this popular scooter.

No data yet exists for the time of scooter injury, so we need to rely on bicycle data for this one. Most bike deaths happen between 6PM-9PM. This would suggest visibility is a factor when riding at night. Being on a scooter doesn’t suddenly make you invincible/visible, so proper visibility on a scooter is of the utmost importance.

Unfortunately, rear tail-light area of a scooter is at a disadvantage in regards to bicycles because there is less room for a bright light and the placement of the light is lower, making it harder for automobiles to notice.

Furthermore, the rear light is just a few inches above the ground, making it hard to see for automobiles.  Bicycles tend to have the rear light below the seat, which is raised up to about hip level. There is also much more room for a larger light on a bicycle.

Therefore a bicycle has two advantages over a scooter when dealing with visibility at night.  Fortunately most of these issues can be mitigated with proper planning and equipment. 

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