Israeli Hospital Goes on Offensive: Electric Scooters Maim Riders, Pedestrians

In online campaign, Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital looking to curb worrying trend of dozens of injuries a month in scooter accidents

Police at the seen of an accident between a truck and a scooter, Tel Aviv, September 18, 2011.
Moti Milrod

It has already become almost routine: Every few weeks, and sometimes even more frequently, a story appears on the Facebook home page of Ichilov Hospital (the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center) about victims of accidents caused by electric scooters and bicycles. They don’t spare upsetting pictures from the first hours and days after the injury, as well as frightening descriptions.

A prominent recent post presented the story of Tal Yahalomi, a young woman who was hospitalized for almost three months after an accident that happened while she was riding an electric scooter. The post included disturbing pictures of Yahalomi in the trauma room as well as the security video that documented the moment of the accident, in which you can see how she was tossed into the air by a car and landed on the ground.

“I broke my right leg and they inserted a metal plate under my knee and a rod with two screws at each end. I also broke my neck, my fifth vertebrate, the one responsible for hand function,” wrote Yahalom in the post, which went viral. “I couldn’t eat alone, brush my teeth or shower by myself. They also inserted a metal plate and two screws in my neck. … I took painkillers all day long, days and nights of pain, screaming and crying that never ended, shouting to the nurses to please inject something into my vein to ease my pain or at least something that would help me fall asleep.”

Another story that was recently posted on the hospital’s Facebook page is that of Noa Vered, 25, whose face was badly injured as a result of a scooter accident, and who was sent to Ichilov with a severe fracture in her jaw that distorted her face, a back injury and bruises all over her body. The post reported that in the past year alone, the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department has treated 120 casualties with face injuries incurred from riding electric scooters and bikes. Over half of them required surgical intervention, from sutures to repairing multiple fractures in jaws, jaw joints, cheekbones and reconstruction of the eye socket.

“The staff, which sees the helplessness and the incomprehensible ease with which lives are destroyed, updates us all the time. Almost every week we add a post about a patient who was injured,” says Ichilov spokesman Avi Shoshan. “We’ve been dealing with the issue for the past five years, it’s a campaign that the hospital has taken upon itself, because what’s happening is total insanity, and we won’t let go of the subject.”

Dr. Oren Tavor, a senor physician in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Ichilov, has been working for 19 years in the emergency room. This job turns him into a kind of seismograph for identifying new dangerous phenomena. “An emergency room is the finger on the pulse of what’s happening in Israel. Everything bad ends up in the emergency room,” he says. In recent years there is one clear phenomenon: People injured by electric scooters and bikes arrive at Ichilov’s emergency rooms.

In effect, says Tavor, Ichilov probably ranks among the leading hospitals in the world for treating numbers of people injured by electric two-wheeled vehicles. “One of the main reasons for that is that we’re a city with an insufficient public infrastructure, and people without much patience for wasting time on the road. These two factors have created this thing.”

When Tavor says “this thing,” he is referring to the unbelievable number of casualties arriving in the Ichilov emergency room: in his estimate, over 100 a month, with various levels of injury. Sometimes it ends in tragedy, as in the death of Roi Avraham, 25, from Ramat Gan, who died last week, four days after he was seriously injured while riding a scooter in Tel Aviv. Other cases end up with medium to serious injuries, which remain with the victims for a long time, like those described in Ichilov’s posts.

‘Like a loaded gun’

The victims started to stream into the hospital already in 2014 and 2015, when electric bikes hit the road, or to be more exact the sidewalks – in the absence of any age restrictions, specific legislation, supervision or enforcement. In early 2015 they realized in Ichilov that this was a phenomenon with new dimensions. “One day Dr. Oren Tavor came into my room and said: ‘We’re feeling a wave of mortal danger from electric bikes. Children aged 8 and 10 are riding electric bikes without helmets and are being injured,” says Shoshan.

“In the emergency room and the orthopedics department too, they told me that they were seeing a big increase in the number of injured. And one day I got a phone call from the director of the emergency room who told me: ‘We have the first fatality from an electric bike – an 85-year-old man, who crossed the street and was hit.”

As a result of the incident they decided spontaneously in Ichilov to release a protest video, which was led by the doctors. The video that was filmed independently within a few hours may have been low budget, but it was effective: four doctors standing in front of the camera and describing injuries that were referred to them, and at the end they raise signs that read – ‘Stop the electric bikes!’” says Shoshan.

The video quickly went viral, was covered in all the media and to this day is the subject of mass viewings in the wake of terrible accidents that make the headlines. “The video and the articles following it led to a decline of 75 percent in the stream of casualties in the two months after its release,” says Tavor.

The film was only the beginning. “For Dr. Tavor it turned into a lifetime project. He started attending discussions with the police, testified in various forums, attended proceedings in the Knesset,” says Shoshan. According to Tavor, “The main outcry was to the government and through it to enforcement authorities. It’s unconscionable that a new vehicle is introduced, and there’s no change in the legal and enforcement systems.

“This is a motor vehicle for all intents and purposes, and children have no awareness of the danger – they put on earphones, are in their own world and endanger their surroundings and themselves. The parents were unaware that electric vehicles are a weapon – like giving a child a loaded gun. We tried in many different ways to make this clear, together with organizations like Or Yarok [Association for Safer Driving] and Beterem [Safe Kids Israel], until the Knesset defined clear rules.”

And beginning in 2016-2017 new regulations were instituted, which introduce a degree of order into the urban jungle: restriction of the riding age to 16, the obligation to wear a helmet, restriction of speed to 25 kph, a prohibition against riding with earphones and of giving a ride to an additional passenger. Later on a prohibition against riding on the sidewalk went into effect, and the riders were sent to bicycle paths and the street.

Tavor says that as a result of the regulations, young children are no longer seen riding electric bicycles, but there are new problems. “It’s true that there has been a significant decline in injuries to pedestrians, but we’re seeing more injuries of riders and an increase in their seriousness. Every week there are dozens of injured. Electric scooters and bikes are vulnerable, weak vehicles, and unfortunately many of those riding in the street also flout the rules of caution – for example, they don’t wear helmets, or they give friends a ride, which greatly endangers the additional passenger.”

In the hospital they consider this campaign a part of its public role. “Who will make an issue of this if not us?” says Shoshan. “The role of the hospital is to be aware of the community, to see these phenomena and to deal with them. It’s impossible to see such a blight and not to sound an alarm.” He says that in the past five years the hospital has initiated over 100 articles on the subject, published its own posts and worked with the police, the Knesset and the Tel Aviv municipality.

You’ve succeeded in bringing about a change in the legislation, and in making it more rigorous. What’s the next goal?

Tavor: “We must have serious enforcement, because the feeling is that nobody is taking real responsibility for this and enforcement falls between the local authorities, the police and the Transportation Ministry. There have to be licensing exams, theoretical exams and ID numbers on these vehicles – so that the drivers can be found in case of an accident. The feeling is that this is a vehicle that has joined the road in a very significant way, and the system is making every effort to ignore it. It’s like saying that there’s no global warming.”