DRUNKS trying to avoid a breath test, speed-freak seniors hooning along the streets bowling over pedestrians, or a lifeline allowing older and mobility impaired people to access the community.
A Senate committee investigating mobility scooters heard it all, the good, the bad and the just plain ugly side of the use of the motorised devices in the community; and after months of submissions, research and debate has recommended Austroads – the peak organisation of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies – research the implementation of a regulatory system in which people who use mobility scooters are subject to licensing, registration and insurance.
The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee was asked to investigate the number of deaths and injuries in Australia since the introduction of mobility scooters along with current national and international regulations; and the need for further regulation.
The inquiry followed a number of accidents including one high profile incident in which Nationals’ senator John Williams’ wife Nancy Capel, was hit by a speeding gopher leaving her needing a hip operation. Mr Williams called for the current 10kph speed restriction on the devices to be dropped to 6kph.
The committee heard there were 132 deaths involving mobility scooters between 2000 and 2017 – 129 were users and 3 were pedestrians. Many more mobility scooter users were admitted to hospital some with serious injuries.
The committee has made two recommendations – that the Government fund Austroads to undertake research and consultation to inform the establishment of a nationally consistent regulatory framework for motorised mobility devices and that Austroads should consider the education of mobility device users as well as licencing, registration and third party insurance.
Among the submissions received by the committee was one from Charles Nicholson Deputy Local Controller of the NSW State Emergency Service in Ballina who wrote that some people deliberately use motorised mobility scooters to specifically drive to hotels and registered clubs to drink alcohol and drive home on the footpath under the belief that they will not be stopped or breathalysed by Police.
“A number of NSW Police have expressed their frustrations to me personally on not having regulations available to be able to enforce any control over motorised mobility scooter uses,” he wrote.
He requested the Committee recommend to the government the creation of a new vehicle classification to the Australian Road Rules 2008 to differentiate motorised mobility scooters from electric wheelchairs, compulsory third party insurance, compulsory provisional registration, a medical need to use and drive a device and 10kph speed limitations.
However many submission expressed concern that further regulations on the devices would adversely effect the ability of users to access the community and would “have the effect of condemning a community already struggling to cope with the normal activities of everyday life”.
A number of submissions rejected the idea of speed limitation specifications arguing that the users of mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs should not be treated differently or discriminated against.
“We have laws that limit the speed at which people are allowed to drive their cars. Those speed limits vary depending on the circumstances. Yet we do not limit the maximum speed of the cars themselves. We rely on drivers obeying the rules which, generally, they do, wrote one person.
“Should the riders of mobility scooters and power wheelchairs be treated differently to car drivers? Should their devices be physically limited to a slow walking pace as some have suggested? I say no, this would be seen as discriminatory by many in the community.”
After the report’s release Mr Williams said he hoped it would be the forerunner of national standards for mobility scooters.
“There is no compulsory training in their use, no need for users to be medically assessed, no need for safety equipment such as helmets – yet these machines can use footpaths and shopping centres mingling with pedestrians.
“The committee has expressed its concern that under current regulations a large number of motorised wheelchairs, with the addition of safety equipment, could be deemed illegal because of the weight restriction,” Mr Williams said.