They are the fad of the moment — but those sleek, fold-up foot scooters have sent nearly 9,500 Americans, mostly children, to emergency rooms with injuries this year.
The number of scooter-related injuries has surged this summer, with more than 4,000 in August alone compared with fewer than 500 in May, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said today. Children younger than 15 account for nearly nine out of 10 injuries.
“These are certainly not your grandmother’s scooters from the 50’s,” Ann Brown, the safety commission’s chairwoman, said in an interview. “Many kids are ending up in hospital emergency rooms instead of classrooms.”
The safety commission says it had received reports of 9,411 scooter injuries this year as of Aug. 27. The majority of injuries were cuts, bruises and sprains, but a third were broken bones or dislocations, mostly in the arms and hands. Hospitals treated and released nearly all of those injured. There have been no deaths related to the new scooters.
Dr. Jill Posner, 33, who practices emergency pediatric medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said she saw her first scooter-related injury in June, but more have been coming in over the summer.
“People don’t think about the fact that these scooters can be as dangerous as bikes and skateboards,” Posner said, adding that she’s seen children with serious head injuries who were struck by cars while riding scooters.
The scooters, first widely sold in the United States late last year, are souped-up versions of the kick-powered scooters made popular in the 1950s. Their popularity soared this summer and the scooter industry expects to sell 2 million to 5 million new scooters this year, the commission said. That’s at least a $200 million business, up from virtually zero sales last year.
Safety Gear Rarely Used Brown said nearly two-thirds of the injuries could have been prevented or lessened if the riders had been wearing protective equipment. The safety commission recommends scooter riders wear the same safety gear suggested for inline skaters: a helmet, wrist guards and knee and elbow pads. Such equipment can cost less than $35.
But some people doubt the message will sink in.
“No one wears safety gear. I have never seen anyone wear safety gear,” said Kristen Tempel, a George Washington University student who owned an older-style scooter when she was younger.
About 100,000 people using inline skates were injured last year, up from about 10,000 in 1992 when they first became popular, said the safety commission, which regularly collects information on injuries requiring treatment in hospital emergency rooms. About 60,000 people suffered injuries using skateboards in 1999.
“We’re trying to head off some of the kind of injuries that happen with inline skates and let people know about the safety gear early on,” Brown said. She added that children younger than 8 years old should not use the scooters without close supervision.
The foot-propelled scooters often have small wheels like those on inline skates and lightweight metal frames that weigh less than 10 pounds and fold for portability. They usually cost $80 to $120 and can be purchased at sporting goods and toy stores.
Some manufacturers have opted for larger scooters with rubber wheels, like the Go-Ped made by Patmont Motor Werks of Livermore, Ca., said spokesman Tim Patmont.
Patmont said his company hasn’t received any reports of people injured using their foot-powered scooters. He blamed the accidents on smaller models with inline skate wheels.
“If you hit a little pebble, that’s all it takes for you to go down,” Patmont said.
Kids aren’t the only one using the scooters—college students and commuters in cities from New York to San Francisco have also turned to the kick-powered transportation trend.
The scooter revival has also spread around the world from Hong Kong to Switzerland. They have become extremely popular in Israel, where a ban was imposed on children taking scooters to school in Jerusalem after one child was seriously injured.