The dos and don'ts of using a mobility scooter
MOBILITY scooters continue to grow in popularity, helping people to get around more easily and, in some cases, providing a lifeline for those who might otherwise be virtually housebound.
Advances in technology and increased competition between suppliers have made mobility scooters more reliable and affordable than ever before, both brand new or in the booming pre-owned market. With people living longer and wanting to enjoy an active lifestyle, demand for mobility scooters is high.
But what are the rules surrounding this type of motorised transport? Who can use them and where can or can’t they be used? Some of the information below is specific to the UK, where the rules are set by the national government, but most of it applies generally and a lot of it is just plain common sense:
Types of mobility scooter: Mobility scooters can have three, four or even five wheels and almost all are powered by rechargeable batteries. They vary in design, but there are two main types, known as Class 2 and Class 3. In the UK the outdated term of ‘invalid carriage’ is the official designation.
Who can use them: You should only use a mobility scooter if you have trouble walking due to an injury, disability or medical condition. The rules make no specific mention of infirmity due to age, but who is going to challenge that? There is no lower age limit for Class 2 models but for Class 3 you need to be at least 14 years old in the UK. There is no requirement to take a formal driving test to use a mobility scooter, although some pressure groups are campaigning for it as the number of users grows. Many retailers offer basic or extended training courses and in some places they are also provided by public bodies such as councils. Similarly, there is no legal eyesight requirement, but it’s common sense that you should have reasonable eyesight to use any kind of moving vehicle, especially on the highway. You should also be fully conversant with the rules of the road.
Do you need insurance? Again, there is no legal requirement for driver insurance for a mobility scooter, but several companies offer it and it’s highly recommended to take out a policy. How easy would it be to accidentally bump into someone in a crowded shopping area? If that happens and they sue you for injury compensation, wouldn’t you want some insurance in place?
Should it be taxed or registered? Class 2 scooters (which cannot be used on the highway) do not need to be registered or taxed. In the UK only, Class 3 scooters must be registered with the national DVLA. You don’t have to pay road tax or have a mandatory annual Ministry of Transport test, although an annual service is recommended to make sure your scooter is safe and roadworthy.
Where you can use your mobility scooter: Class 2 scooters, with a top speed of 4mph, cannot be used on the road (except for short sections where there is no pavement/sidewalk). Class 3 scooters can be used on or off the highway, but you should switch down to the 4mph maximum setting when not on the highway. If you are on the highway, use the 8mph setting and follow all the rules that apply to other road users – you can be prosecuted if you fail to do so.
Driving in busy pedestrian areas: It goes without saying that if you’re using a mobility scooter in a busy pedestrian area, such as a shopping mall or town centre, you should do so with extreme care and consideration for others. Never exceed 4mph and watch out for children or pets which could dash out in front of you. If you carry walking canes or crutches on your scooter, make sure they don’t stick out where they could hit a passer-by. It’s a good idea to wear a hi-viz jacket or vest while driving in congested areas. Try to be patient with others who might not expect a scooter in a pedestrian area and only use your horn if you really have to.
Parking your scooter: If you’re able to park your scooter and walk a short distance, perhaps to visit a shop, remember that all the normal highway parking restrictions apply and make sure you park with consideration for others. Never block a walkway, footpath or access point. Leave enough room for others, including those with pushchairs, wheelchairs or another mobility scooter.
Off the beaten track: Some manufacturers now produce mobility scooters specifically designed to go ‘off-road’ on trails and tracks or across open country on varied terrain. If you live in a rural area or like to go off the beaten track, consider investing in this type of mobility scooter. Don’t risk taking a standard scooter off the road or hard-top footway, as you wouldn’t want to get stuck.
Don’t risk running flat: Finally, whatever type of scooter you use, make sure there is ample charge in its batteries for your intended journey before setting out. Think ahead and consider what you’ll do if the batteries unexpectedly run flat or you have some other kind of mechanical breakdown. If you’re going alone, take a mobile phone with you so you can call for help if you need to (and make sure its battery is charged too).