You might want to think twice about not wearing a helmet if you get on an e-scooter this weekend.
The widely popular electric kick scooters have become the leading cause of preventable emergency room visits in Fredericton, according to an ER physician who works at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital.
"E-scooters have probably taken over in terms of the most common activity causing injury," said Dr. Yogi Sehgal, in an email to CBC News.
"Usually broken bones and lacerations and minor head injuries, but some serious things like spinal injuries and more serious traumatic brain injuries.
"They are often driven by people without helmets, often on poorly maintained paths and they go way faster than many people can handle in tight situations."
WATCH | As e-scooter use grows, so do hospital ER visits caused by them
His observation comes as e-scooters have soared in popularity, triggering Fredericton councillors to explore bylaw amendments to govern their use.
It also comes as staffing shortages have created long wait times at ERs, and health authorities ask that people stay away on weekends unless they need urgent care.
Capable of hitting speeds of about 30 kilometres an hour with the turn of a dial, e-scooters have exploded in popularity in Fredericton and other Maritime cities in the last two summers.
But lagging legislation means that unlike bicycles, there are no rules in Fredericton governing their use, such as the requirement to wear a helmet, or how they can be operated on public roads.
Increasing hospitalizations in U.S.
Last fall the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning about a spike in injuries related to e-scooters and other "micro-mobility" devices such as e-bikes and hoverboards.
In an article published Sept. 30, the commission said emergency room visits for e-scooter crashes across the U.S. climbed 70 per cent from 7,700 in 2017 to 25,400 in 2020.
Injuries happened most frequently to users' upper and lower limbs, as well as the head and neck, with the commission advising that users "always make sure to wear a helmet."
The emergency room observations by Sehgal don't come as a surprise to Pamela Fuselli, president and CEO of Parachute Canadian, a charity aimed at reducing preventable injuries in Canada.
"These e-scooters in particular have become really popular over the last number of years, and they're more available in places like cities for micro-mobility reasons," she said.
"So I think what we're seeing is some emerging injury patterns from a new or, you know, relatively new tool that people have available to them."
Fuselli said rental businesses have driven much of the popularity, and the problem could be that many users are trying them for the first time and underestimating how fast they can go.
"So there's some inexperience in using scooters that factors into injuries and their ability to control the scooter.
"So always wear a helmet when you're using an e-scooter, keep speeds low, don't drive the scooter impaired — so don't use alcohol or drugs when you're using an e-scooter."
'A little scary' riding one
Alanna Welsh tried riding an e-scooter for the first time on Friday.
Visiting from Ontario, she stopped at Cruze Scooters, an e-scooter rental company in Fredericton, with her two teenage sons and partner.
"It's good, but it's a little scary," Welsh said after about 10 minutes of riding along the St. John River.
"I'm definitely not going to go max speed … I'm safe at about 20, 25 [km/h]. I'm not making it to 35."
Matt Nicholson is the owner of Cruze Scooters, which recently rebranded from Mint Rentals.
He said clients are always given a helmet with their scooter, but some choose to take them off as soon as they leave the shop.
"We always, always encourage taking helmets, but again, if people want to take them and not wear them, you know there's not much we can do at that point," he said.
In May, councillors on the city's mobility committee debated possible caps on the speed and power of e-scooters before ultimately voting those down.
Coun. Bruce Grandy, chair of the mobility committee, said the group plans to take a second look at possible bylaw changes this fall, following consultations with stakeholders and a recent field trip that saw councillors try the devices themselves.
Grandy declined to share what he any changes should entail, but said he thinks people need to take responsibility for educating themselves on the risks.
"There's a lot of education to do," Grandy said. "There's responsibility by people renting and selling those, you know, to make sure they're educated.
"But at the end of the day, if you get on one of these and don't wear a helmet, then that's on the person that's using the device."
No data on e-scooter hospital visits
Sehgal was unavailable for further comment on the issue, and a Horizon Health Network spokesperson said they weren't sure there was a category for tracking e-scooter-related injuries.
Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said he didn't have any statistics either, but believes Sehgal's observations are true.
"If you spend any time downtown Fredericton, you'll see … some are obeying the rules of wearing a helmet and driving at an appropriate speed," he said, adding he has an e-scooter himself.
"But others are probably going too fast, and it does worry me when I see people riding around without a helmet on."
In recent months, health-care staffing shortages have prompted hospitals to ask the public to avoid going to their ER for matters that aren't urgent.
MacMillan said every visit to the ER can lead to longer wait times and more work for physicians and nurses.
For those planning to use an e-scooter, he urged they wear a helmet, not ride with another person on board, and never use a scooter while intoxicated.
"And obviously, you know, follow the rules of traffic, just like a bicycle," MacMillan said.
"If you're approaching someone from behind, it can be quite startling, so you should always be ringing that bell to warn someone that you're approaching."