PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Like many people, Adele Hughes Hromco rode an electric scooter for the first time this summer.
The experience was fun, she said – until it wasn’t.
Confusion about the hand controls as Hughes Hromco tried to slow down caused the scooter to jerk over to the side, she said. She plunged onto her right leg.
“I didn’t fall, but my femur went through my tibia,” she said. “I crushed the first four centimeters of my tibia and broke my tibia in the middle. Then I collapsed.”
Hughes Hromco admits her inexperience contributed to her accident and injury, which was so painful that the mother of four described it as “going from 0 to 60 in childbirth.”
At the same time, however, she said most users of the shared electric scooters are likely equally inexperienced when it comes to the vehicle, which reaches speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
“It’s a very fun idea and fun experience – but I had no idea the level of risk,” Hughes Hromco said.
As of mid-September, when KOIN 6 spoke to Hughes Hromco, her injury was the most serious known to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which is overseeing the electric scooter pilot program.
On the agency’s website, where it explains how the pilot will be evaluated, PBOT says it will be looking to see whether electric scooters prevent fatalities and injuries.
But as KOIN 6 learned, the agency has very little information about the scooters’ overall impact on safety.
PBOT primarily learns of accidents and injuries through user-submitted complaints, or reports from the media, law enforcement, or fire and rescue. As of September 26, the agency said it had been notified of 17 scooter-related injuries.
PBOT spokesperson John Brady admitted that injuries and accidents are likely underreported. Hughes Hromco said that’s almost certainly the case, saying she didn’t think there was anyone to contact for weeks after her injury.
“If I didn’t think of contacting when I had such a terrible experience, who else who may have had a lesser injury — but still an injury — is not contacting?” Hughes Hromco said, explaining the challenges with relying on user-submitted reports.
Hughes Hromco said she’s personally heard as many incidents of injuries as had been reported to PBOT.
“When you have a story like this, you tell someone, and they have another story. That’s one of the ways I know so many of these injuries aren’t being reported,” she said.
In the complaint she submitted to PBOT in late August, Hughes Hromco wrote, “I feel very strongly that in order to evaluate the safety of e-scooters, it is essential to consider emergency department and paramedics data.”
PBOT, however, did not implement a system to collect data like this when it launched the e-scooter pilot in late July. And hospital groups including OHSU, Providence and Legacy said the agency did not reach out to them about tracking scooter-related injuries during the pilot.
Now, more than halfway through the pilot, Brady said the agency is in the early stages of talking to Multnomah county and the state’s public health departments about what data they have access to.
Brendon Haggerty, a senior program specialist with Multnomah County’s public health department, said emergency department data could affect PBOT’s view on scooter safety. He said the city is likely learning about major accidents currently, but less serious injuries are probably falling through the cracks.
“What they don’t have are the less severe crashes, the broken arms, the check-ups after a crash, where a couple days later your back starts to hurt and you wonder if something is serious,” Haggerty said. “Those tools are available for us.”
Haggerty said PBOT is in the early stages of talking to his department about accessing emergency department data collected by Oregon Public Health, which receives daily information about each emergency department visit and some urgent care trips in the state.
Oregon Health Authority emailed KOIN 6: “Over the past several weeks, there has been an increase in visits that mention the word ‘scooter.’ However, not all visits that mention scooter use are related to e-scooters.”
Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Jonathan Modie said the agency could not at this point discuss exactly how many additional scooter-related injuries have been mentioned.
From her perspective, Hughes Hromco said it’s hard to imagine how PBOT will be able to fully evaluate scooters’ safety risks if limited to the information they have now.
“It makes me feel the city is only wanting half the picture,” she said. “And I understand they’re fun and they create a carefree image of Portland, but the risk level is very high.”