Updated at 12:00 p.m. with statement from Bird.
A pair of downtown scooter accidents involving cars this week has the city's trauma center warning about head injuries. While no one has died since scooters arrived in Nashville earlier this year, some riders have sustained brain trauma so severe that they'll never be the same again.
After broken wrists, injuries to the face and head are the most common. And Vanderbilt Medical Center Trauma ICU director Oscar Guillamondegui says roughly one a month is "life-changing," where brain function doesn't return to "baseline." Despite their safety recommendations, scooter companies know most riders won't use a helmet, he argues.
"I believe they're trying to cover their liability backside," Guillamondegui says.
Hundreds of zippy scooters sitting on street corners are too tempting.
"You can put a case of matches in a room with 8-year-olds and tell them not to light them. But I guarantee you they're going to light them because they're sitting in a room with matches," he says. "You're putting people at risk without giving them the opportunity to protect themselves."
Both companies operating in Nashville — Bird and Lime — encourage helmet use and even offer to send regular riders one in the mail. But they're not made available in the moment. And in California, Bird has actively fought helmet requirements.
While Nashville's city ordinances can be interpreted to require helmets for scooters, the law is not enforced.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance issued a warning that injuries sustained while on a scooter typically have to be covered by the rider's own health insurance.
"Scooter rental services have made navigating urban areas even easier, but they also come with insurance implications if you are in an accident," Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak siad. "We urge Tennesseans to evaluate their insurance coverages before riding a scooter."
This week's downtown incidents involving cars (including one caught on video) did not result in life-threatening injuries. A 26-year-old who ran a redlight was transported to a hospital and treated for "soreness." A woman hit while pulling out of a parking lot was injured, but not severely, according to initial reports.
In response, Bird points to preliminary data from Austin that found a higher rate of injuries to bike share riders than for those on dockless scooters.
"Bird is committed to partnering with cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option," a Bird spokesperson writes. "We strive to improve and enhance the well-being of our riders and communities through concrete action, including: requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 or older, providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird."