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Most Helsinki e-scooter injuries at night and while drunk; doctors call for weekend night-time ban

Serious accidents have continued despite last month's decision to lower speeds in urban areas at night.

Sähköpotkulautoja rivissä helsingin rautatieaseman edessä.
Electric scooters outside Helsinki's Central Railway Station (file photo). Image: Miika Koskela / Yle
Yle News

Doctors at Helsinki University Hospital are calling for a ban on the use of electric scooters in the city on weekend nights.

The vehicles are still overrepresented in accident statistics in the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS) despite last month's decision to lower speeds in some areas and timeframes.

HUS said that more than two-thirds of e-scooter accidents treated by the Meilahti hospital's trauma unit this summer have occurred at night, and that 80 percent of patients suffering head injuries in e-scooter crashes were intoxicated at the time.

Crashes have continued even though two of the largest e-scooter rental firms agreed in early July to reduce speeds on their two-wheelers in urban areas at night.

According to HUS statistics, about 70 percent of the e-scooter accidents handled at the Meilahti minor trauma unit this summer occurred between 10 pm and 7 am.

Arja Kobylin, Chief Physician of HUS's acute primary healthcare services, urges Transport Minister Timo Harakka to ban the use of rental electric scooters on weekends. The minister is to meet again with e-scooter firms again in late August to discuss safety. On Wednesday, a young woman was killed an e-scooter accident in the southwestern city of Turku.

"Very costly for society"

Kobylin also argues that drunk driving should be punished more severely. The vast majority of head injuries from e-scooter accidents treated at the Meilahti minor trauma unit have been alcohol-related.

HUS said it has to lay on additional staff for weekends just to deal with e-scooter crashes.

"Injuries caused by e-scooter accidents become very costly for society," Kobylin said.

According to Kustaa Lehtonen, a doctor at the Meilahti minor trauma unit, a ban on the use of e-scooters between 11 pm and 5 am could prevent a significant proportion of serious injuries.

In June, Lehtonen estimated that a quarter of minor trauma patients admitted to the Meilahti emergency room were injured in e-scooter accidents.

Kobylin said that out of 10 e-scooter accidents handled last weekend by the minor trauma unit, all but one occurred between 9 pm and 5 am.

Six of the 10 patients suffered head injuries. Three of these were found to have alcohol in their bloodstream, but not all were tested.

"Limiting speeds is not enough," Kobylin said.

Between June 20 and July 21, a total of 82 e-scooter accidents and 56 bicycle accidents were handled at the Meilahti trauma unit. The accident rate has gone down slightly since May and June.

According to Kobylin, the average age of those involved in e-scooter accidents is about 30, while some have been over 70.

Drunk drivers only fined if they cause injuries

Helsinki police mainly keep records of e-scooter accidents that lead to criminal reports, which average a few each month.

E-scooters are classified as light electric vehicles and are subject to the same traffic rules as bicycles. For example, driving on the sidewalk or while intoxicated is prohibited.

According to police sergeant Pasi Tuominen, many users seem to be unfamiliar with the rules. Police are constantly receiving reports of e-scooter riders driving on the sidewalks.

Besides better information, solutions would include limits on driving areas and speeding, especially at night, he says.

"Sometimes e-scooter companies also place scooters where there are no bike paths nearby. It's unlikely that users would drag the scooter to a bike path," he said.

E-scooters for rent in Helsinki are only designed for use by one person. However, doubling up on them is common.

Drunken e-scooter riders who cause dangerous or near-miss situations can be fined for drunk driving. Fines begin at 40 euros.

If a drunken individual does not cause an accident, the police cannot intervene. Undergoing breathalyser tests is also optional for e-scooter riders.

According to Tuominen, a few basic rules of thumb can reduce the number or severity of accidents involving e-scooters:

"Drive at a safe speed, stay off the sidewalks, use bike paths, don’t drive a one-way street in the wrong direction, don’t pick anyone up, and park sensibly. And remember to wear a helmet," he said.

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