No one links the “Segway” with serious injuries. Serious injuries come from motorcycles, truck accidents and other cringe-worthy crashes. If someone were to crash a Segway in a populated space, it is likely half the people would laugh while the other half fidget with their hands as they try to avoid staring. This is the attitude that people hold toward Segways, funny sideshow toys – not serious modes of transportation.
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Segways don’t tear up the asphalt, its top speed caps at 12 miles per hour. How could something so slow cause serious injuries? It is helpful to consider this speed in context. For example, the average bicyclist’s speed is around 9.6 mph. If that same crowd saw a bicyclist flung from his seat, they would universally be concerned.
Unusual or not, humorous or not, Segways can and do result in serious injuries. Many of these serious Segway injuries likely could have been prevented with proper safety equipment, like helmets. But, until riders, bystanders and lawmakers take Segway safety seriously, the rates of serious injuries will continue to climb.
How do Segways work?
Segways are two-wheeled platforms that use the weight of its riders to determine speed and direction. While motorcycles require riders to lean into their turns, Segway riders lean forward to increase speed and stand upright to slow down. They are popular among touring companies as “fun” ways to tour people around cities. You can cover a lot more ground on a Segway than on foot.
The danger with Segways is that they require their riders to self-balance the device. This leaves the Segway vulnerable to debris or abnormalities in the road or pathway. If a car hits a rock, it knocks it out of the way. Contrariwise, if a motorcycle or Segway hits a rock, it could cause a serious accident. Motorcyclists, on average, pay much closer attention to their surroundings and to road hazards. Conversely, Segways do not inspire the same commitment to safety. Moreover, there is no licensing or regulatory scheme to impose safety.
The Segway’s sensitivity to road hazards combined with a casual relationship to safety contributes to the unexpected and violent nature of Segway accidents.
The Study: serious injuries are common
According to a George Washington University study, Segways are impressively dangerous. The study took place in Washington, D.C., which does not require Segway riders to wear helmets. The study examined the medical records of 41 patients who were admitted to emergency rooms at the university hospital from 2006 to 2008.
It noted a steady increase in injuries every year. In 2006, three injuries were reported and in 2007 eight injuries. But, in 2008, there was a significant uptick in injuries with 25 occurring in the first 11 months of 2008.
The study noted that, of the 41 accidents, 24 percent were for serious injuries that involved admission to the hospital. These admission rates were even higher than pedestrians struck by automobiles, which is 20 percent. The problem with advising the public on safety and preparing medical workers for injuries is that there is virtually no data on Segway accidenttrends.
Of the ten people admitted to the hospital, four were for traumatic brain injuries and required intensive care. Two other people underwent surgery. One suffered facial fractures and another suffered a fractured tibia. There were also a variety of broken and/or fractured clavicles, ribs, ankles and arms. The sudden nature of the accidents combined with a cavalier attitude toward safety likely contributes both to the frequency and severity of these injuries.
Improper safety procedures
Although Segway Incorporated recommends that all riders wear helmets, only 17 percent of the riders in this study were wearing a helmet at the time the accident occurred. Moreover, there was no mention of the riders wearing any other protective gear like wrist guards.
The problem, as discussed above, is that people do not take Segway safety seriously. Riders and touring companies alike do not wear helmets. It is the same problem that bicycle helmet laws faced in the mid-90s. Everyone acknowledges that helmets would make them safer but no one believes that they are the type of rider that could fall or become injured. No one anticipates being the “statistic.” Overcoming this attitude is critical to reducing serious Segway accidents.
Segways, despite their unusual and funny appearance, are not toys and should be taken seriously. Segway accidents result in a higher than average rate of serious injuries. These injuries vary from traumatic brain injuries to broken ankles but they are all serious. These injury rates can be mitigated if riders wear property safety equipment and pay attention to the road.