The San Jose Mercury News
by David Murray and Howard Fienberg
A September 6 headline from the San Francisco Chronicle said it all: Cruising for a bruising, Steep increase in scooter accidents raises concern for riders safety. The story referred to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report on a rising epidemic of injuries associated with scooters, the latest fad. Injuries associated with unpowered scooters had increased dramatically since May 2000, nearly doubling each month. To date, there had been 9,411 emergency-room-treated injuries associated with the scooters, with 4,140 of those occurring in August alone. Moreover, its a youth movement, with 90 percent of injuries suffered by children under 15 years of age. Children under 8 years of age were 31 percent of the total. Luckily, no deaths had been been reported.
The CPSC was set up by Congress in 1972 as an independent regulatory agency, overseeing more than 15,000 types of consumer products from toys to toasters to lawnmowers and concerned with unreasonable risks to consumers. It operates the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which provides CSPS with information on emergency room treatments. The sample from which the scooter injury extrapolation derives is 100 hospitals (rural and urban mix) which report on a monthly basis the nature of the injuries.
How serious were these injuries? For the year 2000 data, 97 percent of those injured were treated and released. Diagnostically, contusion/abrasion injuries accounted for 17 percent, lacerations for 28 percent, strain/sprains for 15 percent, and fracture/dislocation for 29 percent. A remaining 11 percent were other.
Injuries were primarily to the arm and hand (44 percent), followed by head and face (29 percent) and leg and foot (22 percent). Proper safety equipment might have prevented or reduced in severity approximately 63 percent of the injuries this year.
But why was this news so important, commanding attention from such major news sources as The Wall Street Journal? August will probably be the peak injury month for a while, since the return to school in September and the coming of cold winter months should lead to a flattening of the upward injury curve.
More importantly, the 9,411 scooter-associated injuries look far less frightening when put into context. The vast listings of injuries associated with consumer products, which are found in the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. (based on CPSC data), only include those products associated with at least 20,000 injuries. So it is unlikely that, even by the end of the year, scooters would turn up on that list. But to be sensible, lets put the scooter risk into the context of other possible injury sources. Here are more annual data to give you the willies about the number of injuries caused by inanimate objects:
Obviously, unpowered scooters are nowhere near the most dangerous types of transportation. For that one should probably turn to scooters powered by nuclear reactors (preferably Kursk-type) running on Firestone tires manufactured in Venezuela.
Wile E. Coyote, it is rumored, has one on order.
David Murray is director of the nonprofit nonpartisan Statistical Assessment Service. Howard Fienberg is research analyst there.
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