In scooter-crazed Tel Aviv, 70% of injured rode helmet-less, 20% were drunk

Even those who protect heads often wear minimalist helmets; one such rider says: ‘I was hospitalized for several days, for three weeks afterwards I could hardly eat or drink’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Israelis ride their electric scooters on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, on May 5, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
Israelis ride their electric scooters on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, on May 5, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

A Tel Aviv hospital inundated with scooter injuries has revealed that 70 percent of riders who crashed weren’t wearing helmets and some 20% were under the influence of alcohol.

As the city has filled with electric scooters in recent years — many privately owned, along with huge numbers from rental services and food delivery businesses — many locals have raised safety concerns about the impact on pedestrians. Now, peer-reviewed research by Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has shined a spotlight on the dangers to riders, especially those who don’t protect themselves adequately.

The study covered accidents involving both electric bikes and electric scooters, though bike accidents were not as common. The research found that when people with injuries were wearing helmets, they were more often wearing so-called half-shell helmets, which give limited protection but are seen as more fashionable than fuller helmets.

“Sadly, the statistics didn’t surprise me,” Dr. Shimrit Arbel, a senior physician in the oral surgery department and lead author of the study, told The Times of Israel. “Every day in the hospital we’re seeing the results of people getting hurt on scooters. Every day more riders use them — often without experience — and we see too many getting seriously injured.

“The message should be for people to wear a helmet, a full helmet that protects the whole face.”

Tal Sigwai, a recovered patient from Sourasky, who was injured while wearing a half-shell helmet, pictured at the hospital. (Courtesy of Sourasky Medical Center)

According to the Sourasky paper, there are between 100,000 and 150,000 electric scooters in Israel. It noted that in a separate study researchers found that between 2014 and 2019, accidents involving e-bikes and e-scooters were responsible for more than 10% of hospital admissions for dental and maxillofacial injuries.

The new study covers admissions for electric bikes and electric scooters in 2019 and 2020. There was an admission, on average, almost every second day: 320 in total. Of these, 238 patients were found to have been injured as a result of riding an electric scooter and 82 patients were injured from riding an electric bicycle.

About a third of the cases had fractures in the facial bones that required hospitalization and surgery under general anesthesia to repair the fractures, according to Arbel. She stated that the most common injuries included broken teeth, tooth loss and cuts in the facial area that needed stitching.

There were no clear statistics on how many injuries would be prevented by the more widespread use of helmets on scooters, However, a study on helmets for cycling has pointed to their strong protective capability. A peer-reviewed 2017 summary of academic literature from the preceding 18 years found that bicycle helmets reduced head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, face injury by 23%, and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%.

Concern about scooter riders putting themselves at risk resounds internationally. Last year, academics in Barcelona published peer-reviewed research titled: Electric Scooter-Related Injuries: A New Epidemic in Orthopedics. 

They wrote that “scootermania has a cost,” stating: “The number of injuries associated with e-scooter accidents has become a public health issue by causing a massive increase of admissions in emergency rooms.”

Dr. Shimrit Arbel, a senior physician in the oral surgery department at Sourasky Medical Center (courtesy of Sourasky Medical Center)

Arbel said the research highlights that people are putting themselves at increased risk of serious facial injuries, including facial bone fractures, if they ride carelessly, ride without a helmet, or ride under the influence of alcohol.

Tal Sigwai, a Sourasky patient who recovered in the summer, said that even though he had protected his head, he suffered as a result of his choice of helmet. Like many, he was wearing a so-called half-shell helmet, meaning one that only covered the top of the head.

Sigwai overturned on his way home from work in Tel Aviv, due to a pothole. The 34-year-old wedding dress designer said: “At first I thought I was very lightly injured, but when I got to the emergency room I realized that I had dislocated my jaw and had to undergo surgery to fix my jaw. I didn’t understand how one minute I was measuring a dress for a bride, and 30 minutes later I was about to undergo surgery.”

Illustrative image: a co-called half-shell helmet (LanaStock via iStock by Getty Images)

“It was all because of something so unnecessary and dangerous — a scooter. I was hospitalized for several days in the oral and maxillofacial unit and for three weeks afterwards I could hardly eat or drink.

“It was a difficult time for me. I am done with the scooter and have no intention of going back to riding it. But for those who still ride these dangerous vehicles, my advice to you is throw away the half-head helmet and buy a full helmet. I know for sure that if I had been riding with a full helmet I would not have got into this situation.”

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