Are Mobility Scooters Safe?

The mobility-scooter industry has been booming for the past 20 years, and sales are only continuing to grow. In fact, trade shows specifically for mobility scooters are now held in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

Not so long ago, people driving these vehicles were ridiculed and scrutinized, but today, the stigmas have all but dissolved, and traffic in public has dramatically increased. However, as scooter traffic has increased so has the number of accidents being reported in cities around the world.

Scooters Improving Lives

Millions of people with disabilities have had their lives improved by the availability of mobility vehicles, which has increased to the level where choosing one is nearly as complex as choosing a car. In fact, some disabled individuals own two, three or even four different models for specific situations. Of course, the largest segment of the population to take advantage of these four-wheeled scooters is the elderly. After seniors are people with disabilities, but also on the list are healthy adults.
Adults without health problems are increasing scooter traffic because these vehicles are involved in several gray areas of the law, but government agencies are trying to eliminate these gray areas in the name of safety. In the U.K., the government is being pushed to make mobility scooters illegal for anyone without disabilities, and some organizations want them to be registered with the state just like cars and motorcycles.

Australian Doctors Concerned

Doctors in Australia have recently become alarmed at the growing rate of mobility scooter use in the country and the number of accidents that have caused fatalities and serious injuries. Some doctors, citing incidents that involve motorized wheelchairs colliding with pedestrians, automobiles, and other objects, have called for new regulations that make helmets and other safety equipment mandatory.

Current estimates show that about 230,000 medical scooters are now on the road, and with a maximum speed of 10 km/h, the risk of accidents and injuries they are causing is growing out of control.

Dr. Edward Gibson of Lyell McEwin Hospital in Adelaide took it upon himself to research exactly how many accidents are caused by motorized wheelchairs. Because Dr. Gibson is a surgical registrar for the hospital, he has access to the data from its emergency department.

He found that between July 2010 and November 2015, 81 patients sustained injuries from scooters. The age of patients ranged from six to 90, and the average was 68 years of age. Although 85 percent of the injured patients were driving scooters, the other 15 percent were pedestrians, and 12 percent of the accidents occurred when a mobility scooter collided with a car.

Head Trauma, Fractures Common Injuries

Dr. Gibson found that the most common injuries from scooter accidents were head trauma and fractures. About one-third of the injured patients in the study sustained head injuries, and nearly as many had broken at least one bone, usually in the hands or arms. Two-thirds of those seeking treatment in the emergency department were later admitted to the hospital for further observation and treatment.

Injuries were not solely caused by scooters involved in collisions. Some of the drivers were injured a result of the vehicles tipping on their sides, falling off steep pathways and losing control following heart irregularities.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Study

In 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission completed a study that showed 62 people died and 442 were hospitalized as a result of mobility-scooter accidents between 2000 and 2010.

Since that time, some states have adopted new laws to address the matter, but so far, Queensland is the only state to require scooters to be registered. Most other states only require a person in a mobility scooter to follow the same rules of the road to which pedestrians are subject.

Also, the safety features incorporated into scooters by the manufacturers are completely voluntary even though these vehicles can achieve speeds that create a safety risk for drivers and pedestrians.

In a study from 2002 conducted by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) in conjunction with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), several recommendations were made on how to improve scooter safety:

• The use of mobility scooters on roads is not desirable and should be discouraged except when absolutely necessary.
• Registration of scooters could provide a means for gathering accurate data on their use and safety.
• Scooter operators could be tested for skills and required to carry a driver’s license.
• Scooter operators could be required to carry third-party insurance covering property damage and injuries.

Another study conducted by Monash University states that “the high prevalence of head injuries indicates improved head protection, such as the wearing of helmets, may warrant further consideration.”