Tampa council asks, ‘How many get hurt on scooters?’ Good luck finding the answer.

Tampa General Hospital has treated scooter-related sprained ankles and head injuries, but city leaders are grasping for accurate numbers
Joseph Bonilla, 23, and Josue Veliz, 21, from New Jersey ride e-scooters through downtown Tampa on Friday.
Joseph Bonilla, 23, and Josue Veliz, 21, from New Jersey ride e-scooters through downtown Tampa on Friday. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Times ]
Published Aug. 23, 2019

TAMPA — As scooter trips grow to more than 250,000 in Tampa, so have concerns over safety.

Earlier this month, City Council members praised the city’s scooter program while at the same time peppering staff for injury data and safety concerns.

“It’s definitely fun when they go fast, but boy, I hit a bump and almost fell and bumped myself,” said City Council member John Dingfelder.

Transportation director Jean Duncan told the council that finding the data isn’t easy: “We don’t always know about those injuries — unless it’s something, of course, unfortunately very horrific."

Others are finding a way. And data is beginning to trickle in for Tampa.

RELATED STORY: Scooters have arrived on Tampa sidewalks, and there are ‘growing pains’

A Consumer Reports investigation published in February revealed that more than 1,500 people had been injured in electric-scooter related accidents since 2017. A Centers for Disease Control report out of Austin identified 271 people with potential scooter-related injuries during a three month period.

Here in Tampa, Dr. David Wein, director of emergency medicine, said Tampa General Hospital has been tracking scooter-related injuries and sharing the data with Tampa Police Department.

People have come in with sprained ankles, bruises, concussions and other injuries. Wein said the hospital has seen “a fair amount” of scooter-injuries resulting from collisions with cars. A handful of injuries happened when people rode scooters while intoxicated.

Still, providing exact numbers is complicated, especially since the word “scooter” can include everything from medical scooters to mopeds.

RELATED STORY: We tried to cross downtown Tampa via scooter. Here’s how it went.

Wein says the most accurate way to track data is comparing year-over-year the number of medical reports that include a scooter reference. May and June 2018 saw seven related scooter injuries in Tampa. Scooters were rolled out over Memorial Day weekend and that number rose to 43 this year.

There’s no way to know for sure if the scooters are the reason, Wein said.

Medical journals publish studies, local governments monitor headlines and scooter companies track their own data, but a centralized, comprehensive source of data on scooter injuries remains elusive. Instead, transportation officials are left cobbling together reports from a number of sources.

Unless a scooter accident involves a hospital or law enforcement, it’s difficult to find records.

There have been discussions about creating a new category for e-scooters in police reports, said Tampa Police Department spokesperson Steve Hegarty.

The city’s transportation department hopes to get preliminary accident data around the end of the scooter pilot program in May, from emergency rooms, the police department and the scooter companies themselves, Duncan said.

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Tampa is working with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and a formal report is expected around July, said center Prof. Yu Zhang.

The center is also evaluating the scooter program overall, assessing the frequency, severity and causes of scooter collisions, as well as the percentage of vehicles illegally parked and the program’s economic and environmental impact.

Duncan expects the year-long pilot program will be extended next year when the pilot ends.

Safety concerns emerge in complaints the city is receiving directly about the scooter program — scooters racing between pedestrians, a number of people riding a scooter at the same time, bicycles colliding with scooters left on sidewalks.

Still, the city isn’t taking advantage of information on complaints and injuries from the four competing vendors — Bird, Lime, Jump and Spin — even though its operating agreement allows it to.

City bicycle and pedestrian engineer Calvin Thornton said that level of detail is not necessary.

However, the city does ask for information on usage, performance and ridership.

Thornton said he doubts people would report their own injuries and accidents in the app since it would make them liable for damages to the scooter.

For now, staff at Tampa General Hospital at downtown’s southern edge seem to be among those best informed on scooter safety.

The sudden popularity of scooters may be unprecedented among transportation options, Wein said.

“We’ve had a whole body of literature published about (scooters) at this point already,” he said.

Broken bones and head injuries are the most common scooter injuries the hospital has seen this summer. Head injuries are the most serious Wein said, so he advises wearing a helmet.

But riders must bring their own. They’re not part of the on-demand scooter rentals.

Current Florida law treats scooters like bicycles and adult riders are not required to wear helmets.

Times staff writers Caryn Baird and Sue Carlton contributed to this report.