Are you considering buying a mobility scooter, or know someone who is? It can often be difficult to separate the facts from the sales-speak.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the various aspects you should consider, particularly how you will use your scooter and your safety. Scooters are built to cater for a range of different applications, and as usage increases, so have accidents. There are now calls for safety helmets, rider education and better road and footpath facilities.
Mobility scooters growing in popularity
Mobility scooters have been around for quite a while. In fact, they were first introduced in 1954.
They have become an increasingly popular mode of transport for those who have difficulty walking distances, or who simply don’t want the overhead of a car when they have all their shops and services are nearby. Unlike cars, mobility scooters don’t require the driver to be licensed, they don’t need a Warrant of Fitness, or registration.
From the Road Controlling Authorities Forum NZ:
“New Zealand is facing broadly similar demographic trends to those faced by Australia, North America and Europe. The population is aging and a large segment of the current population is moving towards being over 65. As a broad generalisation, mobility-related disability affects about one-third of persons within the over 65 age group. Nevertheless, high personal mobility and personal independence are seen as being particularly important for this age group.
Mobility Scooters are becoming an increasingly common sight on many suburban streets, especially in provincial centres. Improved designs and greater acceptance, or a decrease in a perception of mobility scooters as being for only the physically impaired, have seen these devices become an increasingly popular personal mobility choice”.
Mobility scooter basics
We’ve all seen mobility scooters. They typically consist of a seat, handlebar, wheels and a drive unit. However, some of the latest “scooters” are enclosed and look more like miniature vans.
Mobility scooters are designed for riding on the footpath or road and they are battery powered. When you arrive home, you plug it in and leave it on charge until the next time you need to use it.
They are obviously easy to drive. On most models, a tiller controls forward and reverse directions. They are typically fitted with speed limiters, lighting controls and turn signals. They also come in front wheel and rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive scooters are typically smaller and carry lighter loads than the rear wheel drive alternatives.
Advantages of mobility scooters
Some people prefer mobility scooters to wheelchairs, especially if they have arm or shoulder problems. They are highly useful for people who have some walking ability but suffer from health issues that affect their movement including coronary or lung issues, arthritis, or obesity.
Some people don’t like wheelchairs as they associate wheelchairs with disability, so mobility scooters offer a different aesthetic. Manufacturers have responded and are now making mobility scooters which look like short, thin, small cars, and others that look like motorcycles.
Disadvantages of mobility scooters
Mobility scooters do require more body mobility than wheelchairs. The rider needs enough strength to sit upright and good balance as there is generally less body support. It is more difficult for carers to get someone in and out of a mobility scooter.
Mobility scooters tend to be more cumbersome than wheelchairs. They are harder to maneuver in tight spots. They have low ground clearance, so are vulnerable to rough or misaligned footpaths and roadway.
How safe are mobility scooters?
Although a lot safer than many other types of vehicle, mobility scooter accidents are on the rise.
New Zealand doesn’t have many bike lanes and multi-use, wide footpaths relative to a growing, elderly population. As usage increases, so do accidents:
“People injured by mobility scooters have cost Waikato Hospital $87,000 over the past three years and that number is only set to increase as the city prepares for a flood of old people.
A similar rise in injuries has been seen across the ditch. Australian doctors are now calling for helmets to be made compulsory for the elderly riders”.
Problems often occur because scooters have limited maneuverability, drivers aren’t required to hold a licence and tend to receive limited training. In response, some New Zealand councils and organisations are starting to offer mobility scooter training courses. The New Zealand Transport agency also provides some safety tips.
One obvious problem is that it can be difficult for drivers to see mobility scooters. The scooters tend to be low and may be invisible to drivers if they are beneath windscreen level, or hidden in blind spots. Consider wearing a high visibility vest if riding on the road, and fit a flag at a height of at least a metre off the ground. Even when ridden exclusively on the footpath, the rider may encounter cars pulling out of driveways.
Aspects to consider when selecting a mobility scooter
There is a huge range of mobility scooters to choose from in New Zealand. To make the right selection, it is important to consider how you will use the machine.
Some people will use a scooter as a car replacement and want to travel medium range distances. Battery life and range will, therefore, be key considerations. Others may just want the scooter for when they walk the dog around the block or to visit the corner shop, so a lighter, more maneuverable model may be more suitable
Will you be carrying loads, such as groceries? Consider the level of storage and carrying capacity over and above your body weight.
What type of terrain will you be travelling over? More heavy duty models can handle off-road, rough surfaces which may prove a challenge for lower-powered, lighter models. Higher powered models like these are even used on farms and in paddocks! There are also tandem models, designed to carry two people in comfort.
Will you be using a scooter in conjunction with your car? Some models are light enough to fold up and put in the boot. Also consider accessories, such as a sun canopy for hot days, and an umbrella for when it rains, cup and drink holders, safety flags and walker holders. Looking to the future, there may soon be self-driving mobility scooters on offer, which use similar technology to self-drive cars.