Bumpy ride: UAE's e-scooter riders risking injury or death by shunning helmets

A crash or fall from the devices - which can reach 25kph or more - could lead to life-changing injuries

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 24, 2019.  - Dubai Marina residents get bitten by the e-scooter bug.
Victor Besa/The National
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E-scooter riders are risking life and limb by failing to wear protective helmets, road safety campaigners said.

Experts urged owners and renters to ensure they wear protection as the devices rise in popularity.

Rental firms have sprung up as part of a trial in Abu Dhabi, while private ownership is on the rise in Dubai — but helmets are seldom worn.

The lack of specific helmet regulations could mean that accidents result in more serious injuries.

While there are no specific regulations for e-scooters yet, one must at least ride with their own safety in mind

This month an e-scooter rider was injured when she collided with a taxi in Al Quoz. Witnesses said the rider was not wearing a helmet and was left bloodied by the crash.

Last month, a Journal of the American Medical Association study revealed nearly 40,000 broken bones, head injuries, cuts and bruises resulting from scooter accidents were treated in US emergency rooms from 2014 through 2018. The scooter injury rate climbed from 6 per 100,000 to 19 per 100,000 in the US.

“I already know of three accidents involving scooter riders in Dubai and it’s only going to get worse unless people are more careful," said Saleh Jafer, president of the Gulf for Yasa road safety group.

“The use of two-wheeled vehicles is becoming more popular across the country but if users continue to be reckless then somebody could be killed."

An ER doctor from Abu Dhabi's Burjeel Hospital said they were treating several patients a week who had received injuries from falling off e-scooters.

"It's mostly male teenagers we are treating," said Dr Magdi Mohamed.

"It is predominantly minor injuries like sprains, fractures and wounds.

"More often than not they don't wear helmets."

He said it was only luck that had prevented anyone from suffering a serious brain injury.

"Last week I treated an 11-year-old boy who had been hit by a car and broke his arm when he was on a scooter," he said.

"Thankfully the car was only travelling at a low speed but if it had been going faster it could have been a very different story."

Some residential communities in Dubai have spoken against the use of e-scooters. An owners’ association in Motor City has already banned riders while Expo 2020 chiefs will not allow their use during the six-month world fair.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 13, 2019.  People using E-scooters at the Al Wahda mall area, downtown Abu Dhabi. --  Sam Soliguen, takes an E-scooter everyday to work at downtown Abu Dhabi.
Victor Besa/The National
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Last year, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority banned rental companies from operating, but officials and police have not taken action against private owners as long as they ride responsibly.

The authority said it is working on regulations governing the stand-up rides.

Mr Jafer also said the city needs signs to stipulate where e-scooters can be used.

“It’s no different than a notice informing people if an area is out of bounds to dogs or bicycles," he said.

in Abu Dhabi, rental firms argue that helmets are not essential and that the devices, used on pedestrianised streets such as the Corniche, pose little risk if ridden sensibly.

“With every mode of transport, there are certain guidelines to observe," said Arnab Ghosh, head of business development for KiwiRide, a rental company in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. He said the Al Quoz accident would not have played out much differently if the injured rider had been on foot or on a bicycle.

“While there are no specific regulations for e-scooters yet, one must at least ride with their own safety in mind.

“Crossing the road at undesignated points is not an option for anyone, at any time. For people doing so on foot, there is a fine for jaywalking."

Jaideep Dhanoa, chief executive of rental firm Circ, which opened in Abu Dhabi last year, said "riding a scooter is just as safe as riding a bicycle."

E-scooter companies believe micromobility will catch up in the UAE in the coming years.

“We believe by 2022 it will be fully integrated into the lives of people across the UAE,” said Mahmoud Habboub, director of smart mobility at ride-hailing firm Careem.

One such change was the recent announcement by the RTA that parts of Dubai would be redesigned to encourage more people to use bicycles.

The company is expected to launch rental bikes across Dubai in the coming days.

The first phase of the “soft mobility” master plan was due to be completed in March in Karama, Mankhool and Al Qusais districts.

“The UAE is making serious investments in its infrastructure as can be seen from soft mobility initiative in Dubai and Ghadan 21 in Abu Dhabi.”

“Safe streets and new bike paths means the UAE is leapfrogging towards a developed infrastructure,” he said.