bikes and scoots

Mia Acker used her dad’s helmet because she didn’t want to spend money on a new one.

But money wasn’t the only thing the helmet saved her from.

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Mia Acker holding her scooter helmet in UF Health Shands Emergency Room hours after her scooter accident on West University Avenue. 

“One of the biggest things to grapple with has been what would have happened if I wasn't wearing my helmet,” said Acker, a 22-year-old UF botany senior.

The bump on her head and the damage to her helmet are signs that, without the helmet, her accident could have ended much worse.

A 2017 statewide analysis of bicycle crashes conducted by Florida International University researchers identified two intersections on West University Avenue as being crash clusters or areas where accidents occur frequently: Northwest 13th Street and West University Avenue, and West University Avenue and Southwest Second Avenue.

On Aug. 3, Acker was riding her scooter home after a dinner with friends when a car crashed into her on West University Avenue. Acker was heading east when the car turned onto Gale Lemerand Drive and drove toward her.

Acker said the car had been reported to police before the accident due to erratic driving that possibly belonged to a drunken driver.

Acker is now at UF Health Shands Hospital with a fractured ankle and rods in her leg to hold the bones in place. She waits for surgery on Tuesday to repair the fracture, but Acker will not be able to bear weight on her leg for three months.

"I always wear my helmet, but some people don't,” Acker said. “That could have easily been someone that doesn’t, like my sister. I'm just thankful I was wearing it.”

Acker said she posted to Facebook the day after her incident, while she was still in the emergency room, to make students realize the importance of a helmet. She said most of the people she knows who own scooters don’t wear helmets.

“That just breaks my heart,” Acker said. “It’s really distressing to talk about this, especially because it was so recent. But I want to talk about it. I’ll talk about it all day long if it gets someone to wear their helmet.”

Helmet safety

Megan Johnson, a 22-year-old UF health administration graduate student, said an observational study conducted by the Neuromedicine Interdisciplinary Clinical and Academic Program at UF revealed only 12 percent of scooter riders observed on campus were wearing helmets.

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Johnson said New Scooters 4 Less, a scooter shop in Gainesville, reported roughly 50 percent of people who purchase scooters buy helmets.

“There is a big drop off in the people who own a helmet but still are choosing not to wear it,” Johnson said. “People are owning helmets, and they’re just not wearing it.”

Johnson, a NICAP quality improvement manager, said the NICAP Helmet Safety Campaign was created to increase helmet use and find out the perceptions of why students on campus don’t wear helmets.

Wearing a helmet reduces a rider’s risk of severe injury by 70 percent and reduces the risk of death by 40 percent, according to the Helmet Safety Campaign.

Laws and accidents by the numbers

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Data courtesy of Gainesville Police accident report records.

University Police provides bike and scooter helmets free for students, Officer John Savona said. The department also offers free bike lights and bike registration.

Savona said a bike rider on the roadway, including in bike lanes, is required to follow the same laws as a motor vehicle, like stopping at a stop sign.

A bicycle rider who is 16 or older is not required to wear a helmet, according to Florida State Statute 316.2065.

The current helmet law for scooters states a rider who is 21 or older may ride a scooter without a helmet if their insurance policy covers $10,000 in medical benefits injuries from a scooter accident, according to Florida State Statute 316.211.

“Scooters, you know, it’s one of those things where enforcing the helmet laws, it’s kind of tough with the way it reads right now,” Savona said. “We don’t have a lot of officers stop scooters without helmets. I wish we did, but the law is very gray for us.”

According to Gainesville Police data from the past four Fall semesters, 37.2 percent of scooter accidents that occur within a 1-mile radius of UF campus during Fall semester happen on West University Avenue. Of biking accidents occurring within a 1-mile radius of UF campus, 27.4 percent happened on West University Avenue.

The amount of reported scooter incidents near campus in the past four Fall semesters has decreased each year, with 36 scooter accidents reported within a 1-mile radius of campus in Fall 2015 and 26 scooter accidents reported within a 1-mile radius of campus in Fall 2018, according to the data.

Michael Dees, chief of everything at New Scooters 4 Less, said scooter sales have stayed consistent throughout the past three Fall semesters.

Acker said helmets should be more enforced, or more police should be in Midtown because a lot of people ride scooters and drive through the area.

“There's just so many factors that go into creating safer streets, and people are going to ride scooters no matter what, just because they’re cheap options for transportation,” Acker said.