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Austin's electric scooters injury count comes in higher than expected

Scooter injuries in Austin are higher than originally estimated. (Photo: CBS Austin)

Alarming new numbers from Dell Seton Medical Center show scooters may be a bigger health risk than originally thought. Just last week, the CDC announced that Austin is the site of its first-ever study on scooter safety and injuries. Investigators are looking at 68 scooter injuries recorded over a two-month period in Austin this fall, but the head of the Emergency Department at Dell Seton says he sees that many scooter injuries in a week.

If there is anyone who sees scooters a little differently, it is Dr. Christopher Ziebell. “Hitting concrete with your head at 20 miles an hour is no different than getting hit in the head with a baseball bat,” he said. “I know that here at Dell Seton, we see about a scooter injury a shift and we have 11 doctor shifts a day.”

That's everything from bumps and scrapes to broken bones and worse. There's one hospital admission about every other day. And one person sent to the intensive care unit every week.

Since scooters were introduced to Austin in May -- Dell Seton counts 47 severe traumas. That's 15 head injuries. 25 orthopedic injuries. 7 facial injuries. Some of the patients will never be the same. “We have had some folks who will need lifelong support -- nursing homes and that sort of thing because of scooters,’ said Dr. Ziebell.

Close to city hall downtown, we flagged down Andrew Spicer on a scooter. “I go throughout downtown pretty frequently and it's a lot more convenient than getting a car,” he said. I asked him about safety, and he has thought about it. “Only ride during the day,” he said. “They also have postings of certain streets that you should be on the bike lane versus on the side walk.” And Spicer says he is vigilant about everything around him while he is riding.

But that's not enough for Dr. Ziebell, who expects his department will treat dozens of more injuries this week alone. “If you're going to ride a scooter regularly, invest in a helmet and strap it to your backpack and just get used to putting your helmet on when you ride the scooter,” he said.

I checked with St. David’s and Baylor Scott and White, and neither of them track scooter related patient visits. Austin City Council is expected to meet in the spring to possibly take action on scooter safety.

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