The use of electric scooters in the United States has boomed in recent years, but information on their safety has been scarce. Except for hospitalization data, little has been known about the safety of e-scooters compared to bicycles and the causes of the most severe e-scooter crashes. Now, thanks to new research released by Professor Chris Cherry and graduate student Nitesh Shah in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Tickle College of Engineering, city managers and policymakers have the data to make long-term decisions.
In 2019, 86 million trips were made on shared e-scooters—an increase of 100 percent from the year before. Cherry and Shah took a close look at e-scooter traffic safety, and their findings were recently published in the Journal of Safety Research.
The study examined police reports of 131 crashes that occurred in Nashville, Tennessee, between April 2018 and April 2020: 52 involving e-scooters and cars and 79 involving bicycles and cars. The authors focused on crashes involving cars because they account for 80 percent of e-scooter rider fatalities, making them especially important to sound transportation policy.
The findings show one strong similarity between car crashes involving e-scooters and those involving bicycles: one in 10 leads to the injury or death of the scooter rider or cyclist. From there, the similarities start to fade. While the location of crashes is similar—most occur at intersections—the type of crash varies considerably.
“When cars hit either a bicyclist or scooter rider, the injury usually occurs to the rider,” said Shah, a first-year PhD student of Kathmandu, Nepal, who led the research. “We found that intersections are so important to transportation design, and that scooter riders on sidewalks are a really important factor to consider.”
In the accidents examined in the study, e-scooter riders coming off sidewalks into driveways and crosswalks crashed with drivers at about twice the rate of bicyclists—more than half the scooter accidents occurred this way. Most scooter and bicycle riders were locals who are close to home, and most car drivers lived outside the city center. About one-third of scooter riders were tourists or visitors. Although downtown Nashville is an entertainment hub, most scooter accidents occurred during the daytime, and alcohol was not a factor. One in five drivers fled the scene of the crash.
“We were surprised that scooter riders didn’t seem to fit the stereotype of drunk tourists getting hit at night. We did find that scooter riders and drivers seem to get caught off guard when interacting at crosswalks and driveways,” said Cherry.
The results suggest that a generalized approach for e-scooter and bicycle safety might not be the most effective, and that policies and safety campaigns might have more impact with more specific targeting.
The study was funded by the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety. Cherry and Shah conducted a comprehensive analysis based on police crash reports, which relayed locations relative to sections of roads or intersections as well as the maneuvers of the driver and rider. In addition to traditional descriptive analysis, they used a prototype version of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool to classify crashes.
Elan Lloyd (865-974-8786, firstname.lastname@example.org)