Doctors warn of serious injuries as e-scooter crash presentations spike

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Key points

  • St Vincent’s Hospital has had more than 500 patients presenting at the emergency department with e-scooter related injuries since January 2022. 
  • Melbourne’s e-scooter trial was extended for a third time earlier this month with the government delaying a decision on whether to make the controversial vehicles permanent until next year.
  • The government also lifted a ban on e-scooters earlier this year. 

A spike in serious injuries since Melbourne’s e-scooter trial started has led senior doctors to warn of the life-changing impacts of crashes.

St Vincent’s Hospital is dealing with an influx of injuries, with more than 500 patients presenting at the hospital’s emergency department with e-scooter-related injuries since January 2022.

Dr Jonty Karro, head of the emergency department at St Vincent’s Hospital, is seeing a spike in e-scooter injuries in the emergency room. Credit: Justin McManus

The injuries have related to general accidents and falls, including where riders used a motorised scooter after consuming alcohol or drugs, did not wear a helmet, or collided with traffic and pedestrians.

Dr Jonty Karro, director of emergency medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, said there was an immediate spike in presentations to the hospital’s emergency department when Victoria’s e-scooter trial started in February 2022.

Of the 500 patients who presented at the emergency department at St Vincent’s,143 were admitted to hospital.

“You need to be pretty seriously injured to require an admission in the hospital for your injuries because that’s not just somebody who stayed a few hours or even a day in a short stay unit,” Karro said. “That’s someone who often needed an operation or needed a wound cleaned out or had concerns for organs in their chest or their abdomen … these are not innocuous injuries.”

Melbourne’s e-scooter trial was extended for a third time earlier this month with the government delaying a decision on whether to make the controversial vehicles permanent until next year.

The 2500 hire scooters scattered across inner Melbourne can travel up to 20km/h under the trial across the City of Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip council areas.

The government also lifted a ban on personal e-scooters in March this year.

The government has not publicly released its e-scooter trial evaluation and rejected a freedom of information application from The Age for access to the evaluation.

A government spokeswoman said strict rules were in place along with an ongoing educational campaign to ensure e-scooters were being used safely around the community.

“Safety is and always will be our priority – that is why we have extended the e-scooter trial for an additional six months to gather important information about e-scooter use over the warmer months when they are used more frequently,” she said.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital has recorded similar numbers to St Vincent’s, with 535 people presenting with e-scooter-related injuries since January 2022. This compares with two e-scooter-related injuries a year, between 2006 and 2019.

Neither hospital collected data on whether the injuries were from the trial scooters or privately owned scooters, but Karro said anecdotally it seemed the majority were from the trial.

Karro said the most common e-scooter related injuries were related to limb or head trauma, with hand, wrist, finger and elbow fractures the most common diagnosis.

Almost double the number of men presented than women and the median age of the men who attended the hospital was 33 while the median age of the women was 29.

Karro said the injuries from e-scooters were “quite high acuity” and were generally ranked as four on the Australasian triage scale of one to five where one is the most serious.

“Your average sprained ankle or hurt wrist is a category four,” he said. “These are a level above in terms of their severity and so there are head injuries, a lot of hand and wrist and elbow injuries as you can imagine people falling on to their outstretched hand.”

Patients most commonly attended hospital with an e-scooter injury on a Sunday between midnight and 2am.

“I think it’s pretty clear people are going home on them after their night out and using any electrical motorised thing whilst intoxicated really increases the risk of injury,” Karro said.

Karro said he was not calling for a ban on e-scooters, but people should take precautions like wearing a helmet and not use e-scooters after they had been drinking alcohol or using drugs.

“One of the key things that people might not understand is life can change in an instant,” he said. “When that’s a head injury, you cannot be the person you were before the injury and that’s not something you want your family to have to go through.”

Credit: Matt Golding

Royal Melbourne Hospital trauma co-ordinator Kellie Gumm said there had been a worrying increase in the number and severity of e-scooter-related presentations in the last few years.

“As a major trauma service, at the RMH we treat patients with some of the most severe injuries,” she said. “And we know e-scooter accidents can result in life-changing and even fatal injuries – especially if operated without a helmet, or while intoxicated.”

Imogen, who did not want her last name used, was one of the patients treated at St Vincent’s for an e-scooter-related injury.

She rode an e-scooter home from a gig with a friend earlier this year when she was “really drunk” and hit a barrier on the road.

“I put my hand on my leg, and it was wet and I thought ‘That’s not good’,” Imogen said. “I had a wound on my leg that was quite deep and very mangled and I immediately went into shock and said to my friend: ‘You have to call an ambulance for me’.”

Imogen spent three days at St Vincent’s and required surgery on her leg.

“I just made a really stupid choice,” she said. “I am never getting on a scooter again.”

Rob Eddy occasionally uses Melbourne’s share scheme e-scooters to get around and said while he was confident using them, he was not surprised there were high rates of injuries.

Rob Eddy says he’s never getting on a scooter again.Credit: Justin McManus

“Having only a helmet, you’re always going to have some sort of grazes if you come off,” he said. “I’ve come off one at 30km/h.”

Eddy said he fell off an e-scooter in the middle of the night on Swan Street in Richmond when he rode the e-scooter into what he thought was a ramp onto a footpath but was a gutter.

“If you go off at that time of night, you’ve just got to lick your wounds off and hope no one sees you,” he said. “The embarrassment was probably more painful.”

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