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When giggles turn to tears, emergency physician insight on the turbulence of shared electric urban scooter pilot programs.

August 25th, 2019

Matthew Vasey MD





Department of Emergency Medicine, Tampa General Hospital | Teamhealth, an affiliate of University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine

Disclosure: Opinions reflect neither employer nor affiliated institutions, soley those of the author.


Do you live in an urban environment where shared electric scooter programs are deployed? If you live in a city like I do with one of these programs in place backed by city officials, your opinions are likely to coalesce soon. The narrative is politically defensible, pitched as positive modern evolution of transportation policy. So what is the other side of the coin? Are there systemic negative consequences to this altruistic urban planning hybrid capitalist agenda? Time will tell as the pendulum swings.

In order to make meaningful conclusion requires data, and a lot of it. Unintended matters related to the electric scooters will have to be turned into identifiable number computer codes so metrics can be obtained and officials can make evidence based decisions with political cover defending their decisions. Until then, beware riders and citizens. You are participating in an urban experiment where the pros and cons are being identified on the fly. In the era of the bell curve and probability based decision making often lacking the variable of unquantifiable human and emotional impact, the conclusion has yet to be reached. I suggest you consider anecdotal evidence so that you can avoid being statistical road kill. Do not be victimized by the Empire of Greater Good as meaningful data continues to be collected and conclusions yet to be made.

Adolescents, naturally ripe with irrational fortitude, zip down the streets, on sidewalks, across intersections and over bridges without helmets, sometimes with an additional passenger, wearing high heels, beach sandals, high on drugs, intoxicated by alcohol, all while producing awesome selfie stills and video snippets leaving a gnarly digital wake of intractable giggles. Then all of a sudden, the laws of physics exert their ever present forces of velocity and gravity among so many others. This combined with the biologic reality of human vulnerability and in an instant giggles turn to tears, or even worse, unconscious catastrophe.

Kamikaze scooter pilots make their humble pilgrimage to local emergency departments for a new normal with a swath of ego bruises, skin disruptions, orthopaedic bone injuries, soft tissue traumatic organ injuries occasionally arriving as Level 1 Trauma Activations triggering mega community emergency care resources. Sadly, what began as giggles for some scooter drivers ends in untimely death followed by a tsunami of negative energy cascading through the networks of all those affected.

I see the potential positive utility of "last-mile" efficiency, but I also see real dangers. Users should take a holistic view of their decision to utilize electric scooter transportation as the urban experiment unfolds. Be rational and clear headed, if you can't identify the risk in a situation, it's probably on you. Strongly consider wearing protective equipment, particularly helmets to prevent irreversible brain injury. Be sober and highly focused. Respect external forces and the variability of surrounding human drivers and pedestrians. Freedom of choice is not freedom from consequence. There are consequences. The Empire of Greater Good urban machine will move forward with or without you.

My sister has cerebral palsy, a spastic quadriplegia type that confines her mobility to a wheelchair for use on sidewalks when outdoors. This article was inspired by her sidewalks littered and obstructed with electric scooters in South Tampa rendering them impossible for her to pass. Cities and industry might allocate a portion of their newly unlocked efficiency dollars to prepare their defensible narratives and budgets for legal combat in the arena of Americans with Disabilities Act. As for scooter drivers, understand that you are riding the risk. Be vigilant.




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