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Dad killed in e-scooter crash would have probably survived if he had a helmet on

Tracy Neal,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 1:22PM
Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

Dad killed in e-scooter crash would have probably survived if he had a helmet on

Tracy Neal,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 1:22PM

Transport authorities are being urged to re-think whether helmets should be mandatory for electric scooter riders following the death of a man who crashed into a concrete power pole while riding a modified e-scooter.

The suggestion from the Coroners Court follows its findings into the death of Thiyagalingam Thanababu in March 2021 who may still well be alive today if he had been wearing a helmet.

Inquiries into the deaths of three other e-scooter riders are also currently before the court, including Ryan Taylor, who was believed to have been wearing a helmet when he died in central Auckland last month.

Thanababu died on the evening of March 18, 2021, while riding an e-scooter northbound on Sandringham Rd.

The weather was fine and visibility good, but as the 53-year-old mechanic approached the intersection with Aroha Ave, at a speed between 36 and 41 kilometres per hour, he fell from the scooter and collided with a raised kerb and the base of a concrete power pole.

It’s not clear why he fell, but Coroner Erin Woolley said in her findings that contributing factors might have been the unstable road surface, the condition of the modified scooter and the presence of methamphetamine in Thanababu’s system, which may have caused him to drive dangerously.

A report from the Police Serious Crash Unit showed the crash occurred on an uneven road surface and that the scooter was not in a safe rideable condition, as it had been extensively modified and the rear brakes were not working properly.

The father of two was taken to Auckland City Hospital, where he died six days later.

Thanababu, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, suffered a list of serious injuries including multiple fractures to his ribs, the front of his skull and his left shoulder blade.

A post-mortem also found that he had bilateral acute pneumonia, which he had likely acquired during his hospital admission.

Woolley noted that the risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia increased upon admission or transfer to the Intensive Care Unit because of the associated need for mechanical ventilation.

The forensic pathologist who conducted the post-mortem examination said it was the combination of pneumonia and a significant head injury that resulted in Thanababu’s death.

The pathologist believed that had Thanababu been wearing a safety helmet he most likely would have survived.

Woolley said in her findings that while there was no legal requirement in New Zealand to wear a safety helmet while riding an e-scooter, Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, recommended that a helmet be worn.

She noted it was a legal requirement to wear a safety helmet while riding a motorcycle or a bicycle.

Woolley said that given the recognised benefit of helmets in reducing the risk of a skull fracture and concussion they should also be legally mandated for those using e-scooters.

Te Manatū Waka/Ministry of Transport said there was evidence to suggest that mandating helmet use could serve as a deterrent to the uptake of active travel, which might therefore reduce health and other benefits.

However, the Coroner said encouraging the use of alternative means of transport should not come at the expense of safety, particularly where the safety risks pose a danger to life.

Coroner Woolley recommended that the ministry prioritise further consideration of mandating helmets for e-scooter users and that a safety campaign be implemented to increase the use of safety helmets by e-scooter riders.

She said the case also served as a reminder of the dangers of operating an e-scooter while under the influence of drugs, and while the machine was not in a safe, rideable condition.

Patient data from Auckland City Hospital’s Emergency Department between October 2018, after the introduction of shared (rental) e-scooter services, and February 2019 revealed that 180 patients were treated for various injuries related to e-scooter accidents, of which 17 per cent were treated for head injuries, many of which were severe.

Only three were wearing a helmet at the time; of which one was a workplace hard hat and not suited for use when riding an e-scooter.

Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.

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