Segway to Serious Injuries

The death last month of Segway Inc. CEO James Heselden, in a crash while aboard the personal transporter, has highlightedboth the dangers of the two-wheeled conveyance and a new study charting the rise of Segway-related injuries in one Washington, D.C. hospital.

Heselden, the new British owner of the Bedford, New Hampshire-based company was aboard a rugged-terrain Segway touring his North Yorkshire estate, when he plunged over a cliff and into the River Wharfe. On the heels of Heselden’s death, the Annals of Emergency Medicine published online a study of emergency-room Segway injuries over a three-and-a-half-year period.

Serious Injuries Related to the Segway® Personal Transporter: A Case Series found 41 cases from April 2005 to November 2008, with a quarter requiring a hospital admission – four of whom were treated in the intensive case unit. The researchers, based at the George Washington University Hospital Emergency Department, also saw a sharp rise in cases over the study period from a handful in 2005 and 2006 to more than half the total cases in the first nine months of 2008.

The Segway is a battery-powered, two-wheeled personal transporter, which uses the rider’s balance to go, stop and steer and reaches a top speed of 12.5 miles mph. Riders stand on a platform and lean forward to power the device or to accelerate; lean back to slow or stop; and tilt right or left to change direction. When the Segway, a brainchild of the highly successful inventor Dean Kamen, debuted in 2001 it was hailed as a revolutionary invention.

Since the Segway began sales in 2002, it has been adopted by law enforcement and emergency response departments, tour companies, farmers and the military. However, the device has been twice recalled for software glitches and power failures. In 2003, 6,000 Segways were recalled for abruptly stopping, “particularly when the batteries are near the end of charge.” At the time, the company had received reports of three falls, one of which required the victim to receive stitches for a head injury.  In 2006, 23,500 Segways were recalled for unexpectedly applying “reverse torque to the wheels,” based on reports of six falls causing head and wrist injuries.

The authors of the Segway injury study noted that during the time period surveyed, the number of tour operators using Segways in the District increased from one to three, and that about three quarters of the patients were not from the D.C-Maryland-Virginia area, suggesting that these injuries occurred while the riders were visiting the capital.

Segways have also featured in a number of injury law suits. A 2008 news report documented a dozen lawsuits filed against the company filed in federal court.

The Segway is regulated under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission which has issued an opinion that the Segway qualifies as a “consumer product.” Most states have regulations designating where riders can use the transporter – either sidewalks, bicycle paths or low-speed roads – and the minimum age of riders. Many states regulate the Segway under the pedestrian laws.