THE mobility scooter is a relatively recent addition to transport modes. It’s also a relatively unregulated mode of transport.
There have been a few official inquiries in Australia to look into any need for regulating mobility scooters. Those inquiries concluded that what was lacking was good information to base further regulation on.
In The Netherlands, information gathering has taken place and the findings are quite damning for mobility scooters. They were found to be more dangerous than motor cycles. The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics found that mobility scooters were involved in 44 fatal accidents, while motor cycles were involved in 42 fatal accidents.
There are three design features that pose a risk to mobility scooterists.
The accelerator and the brake are combined on mobility scooters. To accelerate and keep going, the driver has to squeeze a handle. This is an operation most people intuitively associate with braking. To brake the driver has to release the handle. In an emergency situation therefore, the driver, who is likely to be stressed or panicked, has to act against their instincts, because slamming on the brake is done by letting go of the controls. This is a clear design failure, and perhaps it is one that can be quite easily fixed.
Not so easily fixed is the balance of mobility scooters. They have a narrow base and are by definition top-heavy when carrying a driver. This means they are prone to toppling.
In addition, some makes and models of mobility scooters are three-wheeled, with one wheel at the front and with two at the back. This also increases the risk of toppling, particularly if one of the back wheels goes through a hole or goes off the footpath.
It is unclear what, if any, information is being collected about incidents and accidents with mobility scooters in Australia. What is clear is that using a mobility scooter is not as simple and as safe as some might think.