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Serious Injuries From Riding Segways Increasing

Injury Data Released Shortly After Company Owner Dies in Segway Accident

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 28, 2010 -- Riding a two-wheeled Segway Personal Transporter may look like fun, but it can be dangerous. That's according to researchers who cite an increase in serious injuries sustained by people who operate the devices.

“The Segway may seem cool, but there's nothing cool about a head injury,” says Mary Pat McKay, MD, MPH, of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and one of the authors of a new study on Segway-related injuries. “One quarter of the patients who came to our emergency department with Segway injuries were admitted to the hospital.”

Researchers examined records for 41 people who visited the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital with injuries suffered while riding Segways.

Ten of the 41 injured people were admitted to the hospital, including four to an intensive care unit because they had suffered traumatic brain injuries.

Two people underwent surgery during their hospital stay, one for facial fractures and one for fracture in the tibia.

The study is published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The authors say only 17% of the patients had worn helmets, which are recommended for all riders by the Bedford, N.H.-based company that manufactures the Segways. Helmets are not required by law in Washington, D.C.

The number of cases increased significantly over time during the study period, with three injuries occurring in 2006, eight in 2007, and 25 in the first 11 months of 2008.

Coincidentally, the study appears online only days after the death of the owner of the Segway company. James Heselden, 62, died apparently after an accident involving a Segway he was riding, which skidded into the Wharfe River near his estate in Yorkshire, England.

Company spokesman Matt Dailida tells WebMD it is not known whether Heselden was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. The company, which manufactures the Segways in New Hampshire, has sold tens of thousands of the devices around the world since it was unveiled with great fanfare in December 2001, the year before it went on sale.

Dailida tells WebMD Segways are in use by more than 1,000 police departments worldwide.

Researchers say all of the injuries they discovered were sustained by riders simply falling off the machines, sometimes after striking an inanimate object.

“Segways are pretty new to the marketplace and it's often only as products become popular that the risks involved become apparent,” McKay says. “We urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission to assign the Segway a unique product code and collect data on injuries sustained from riding the Segway so we can develop a clearer idea of the scope of the problem.”

Meantime, she says, all Segway riders should wear helmets and “pay close attention to what is in front of and around them when riding.”

The researchers say that the median age of injured Segway riders was 50, and 30 of them were women. Also, 29 of the victims, or 70.7%, lived outside the Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland area. One was a police officer.

The Segway runs on a battery-powered motor. The operator stands upright on a platform and leans forward to go straight ahead or speed up and returns to upright or leans slightly backward to slow down or stop.

Top speed is about 12 miles per hour.

They are used by some police officers, airport security personnel, and some commuters, as well as by groups on tours in various locations.

Dailida of the Segway company tells WebMD that standard recommendations for users include being familiar with their terrain, because most accidents involve contact with some sort of obstacle. More than 75 dealers sell Segways in the U.S., he says, and the devices also are on the market and the streets in Europe and South Africa.

Models come in various prices, ranging from $5,000 to $6,600, Dailida says.

He tells WebMD that “people who knew him [Heselden] are just shocked at what happened.”

SOURCES: News release, Annals of Emergency Medicine.Boniface, K. Annals of Emergency Medicine, October 2010.Matt Dailida, Segway, Bedford, N.H. New York Times: "Segway Owner Dies in Segway Crash."

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