Mobility Scooters: Legally Not Vehicles

insurance for mobility scooters
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An interesting case written about by solicitor Salome Verrell highlights a legal fog around mobility scooters.

She was asked to represent a disabled man who had been charged with drink-driving on his mobility scooter. He was breathalysed, and had actually pleaded guilty by the time she was involved with his case.

The magistrates presiding were concerned, because the normal penalty applied in cases of drink-driving is an automatic disqualification from driving. For an able-bodied motorist, this is certainly inconvenient, but seems appropriate. For someone who is severely disabled, and dependent on a mobility scooter in order to get around, a ban on driving it would be much more Draconian, rather like depriving the drunk car driver of the use of his legs.

A clear case of discrimination

Salome Verrell saw this as a clear and discriminatory example of unfairness towards someone with a disability, and she sought support under Equalities and Human Rights legislation in order to challenge the situation. To her surprise, she could not find anything to help, but she did discover legislation which said that not only should her client not be disqualified for the offence, but that it was unlawful to prosecute him under s4 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988 which is the source of the offence of driving a mechanically propelled vehicle whilst unfit through drink.

Mobility scooters not classified as motor vehicles

She found that, in law, a mobility scooter is an invalid carriage – and this excludes it from traditional drink driving rules. A related law states that an invalid carriage which meets the prescribed weight and speed limitation requirements, is not considered as a motor-vehicle under the RTA 1988, and that therefore s.1-4 does not apply. This means that the offence of drink-driving cannot apply, and that it is inappropriate for somebody on a mobility scooter to be stopped and breathalysed.

The case against her client was dropped, much to his delight, of course. Research suggests that such cases in the UK are incredibly rare – she was able to find only four. In two of them, the person pleaded guilty, and in the other two, the charges were withdrawn. In one of the “guilty” cases, the court imposed a driving ban – except for the mobility scooter, but it would appear that there was no proper lawful basis for this decision.

Should there be compulsory training and insurance?

This case highlights an interesting legal quirk, but also should make us think about other aspects of the growing use of mobility scooters. Whether they are limited to 4 mph for pavement use or 8 mph for road-going, they are capable of causing some damage either to other people in the vicinity or to their user. Currently, there is no requirement for training or insurance, although reputable suppliers will do their best to make sure that purchasers are competent; and road-going, or Class III, scooters have to be registered. There have been cases of intrepid scooter riders taking them on to busy roads where they may be legally allowed to travel, but the level of danger involved makes it reckless, to say the least.

I would be interested to know what you think: should mobility scooters be subject to similar rules as cars – i.e., pass a test, hold third-party insurance, don’t drink and drive? Or is it more appropriate to regard them as an essential mobility aid which should be available to anyone who needs it, and put the onus on other pavement or road users to steer well clear?

Join those who have added comments below!

Further Resources

The IL guide to mobility scooters can be found here

We have tips on safe use of scooters here

 

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9 Responses to “Mobility Scooters: Legally Not Vehicles”

  1. Frances October 20, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    An interesting follow-up to this article received from Frank Adams:
     
    “Having read your article regarding being over the driving limit whilst using a scooter, and the law.
    I used a range of scooters from the early 80’s until I had to use a wheelchair fulltime thirteen years ago. I was involved in a Department of Transport project to produce a video and handbook on the knowledge and use of “Class 3 invalid tricycles”, and a great deal of the information was applicable to Class 2 as well. It was called “Be Safe at 8mph.” This training package was launched when class 3s were recently launched. The idea was for dealers and the interested public to gain knowledge and guidance on the use of both scooters and powered wheelchairs. Although the training pack was launched at the Mobility Roadshow by Steven Norris the then minister for disabled people, it didn’t seem to be taken up by the trade. Surely it is time that this should be updated and made available again.
     
    Regarding the idea of making insurance compulsory: although I believe that it is foolish in the extreme not to have it, in the litigation culture we now live in, this – together with the suggestion of a test of competence – is discriminatory, unless it is extended to include the users of bicycles as well. After all anyone can get on a bike and pedal everywhere, including the illegal use on pavements without proving capability or competence.”
     

  2. brett johnson October 23, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    As a daily mobility scooter user – it is my opinion that whilst as you say they are not “regarded” as vehicles – they DO need to be used with the same care and regard ( in fact more so ) AS a vehicle – certainly if used on the road ( 8 mph versions ).
     
    Let’s get the DD subject out of the way first – being drunk in charge of ANY type of vehicle ( pushbikes included ) solicits NO sympathy from me, as a former firefighter who has had to deal with many accidents caused by drink – both rescue and medical, I am afraid there should be a TOTAL BAN on drinking and driving PERIOD!! When in charge /control of ANY type of mechanical vehicle, the operator should be 100% alert and concentrating on the task at hand – DRIVING.
     
    So far as insurance – this too should be made compulsory – it’s NOT expensive ( I pay some £60 a year ) and covers you for third party and other things – and in these days of people being “spatially unaware” – especially the i-pod generation and those concentrating on texting etc whilst walking – I agree only a fool would be without it – NOT to cover any fault of yours – more to prevent one getting sued by someone who is NOT concentrating on the task of being a pedestrian. Sadly of course, given the current opinion on disabled people by the public, and aided by government rhetoric and media hype, we are regarded as less than 2nd class citizens – virtually ANY incident involving a scooter or wheelchair is AUTOMATICALLY the user’s fault. I have seen ludicrous claims that “he was doing 25 mph on the pavement” and other similar uninformed statements from “witnesses” to accidents in the press and online – yet the REALITY is that to AVOID accidents you have to be something of a mind reader and be able to anticipate ( second guess ) what johnny pedestrian is going to do next, and be observant for clues such as leads to ear phones etc, which shows that the pedestrian is concentrating on something other than looking where they are going. So YES, get some insurance, as believe me I am VERY glad of my emergency vehicle driver training that taught me to LOOK at the clues to what others where doing.
     
    Also there is a need for scooter users to REALISE that THEY need to take responsibility for being seen!! Hi vis jackets – use of lights if fitted ( tho’ you will get “helpful” people who keep telling you they are on ) AND IF you are going to use a scooter on the road – some sort of flashing beacon on a mounting at driver eye hight ( actually a requirement if used on fast roads – look it up ). Anything less is frankly suicidal IMO – and certainly in busy cities I would NOT recommend the use of a scooter on the road if at all possible – don’t forget users are small and VERY vulnerable, and like cyclists – SOME vehicle drivers seem to think we should not be on the road at all – I have been given verbal abuse by drivers for going on the road to get round cars parked on the pavement – you just can’t win.
     
    As to training, well fine BUT who is going to give the training ?? – “experts” who have never used a scooter /chair in daily life? Or maybe here is an opening FOR disabled people’s employment – as again citing my fire service days, only those who have “been there /done that ” are really FIT to train others – you can’t teach this stuff from a book or set of “government inspired” – ( excuse me whilst i snigger ) guidelines.
     
    BUT having said all that – like all things in life COMMON SENSE is what is required, by ALL parties – after all ANY ONE OF US could need to use a scooter or chair tomorrow – and belive me – it’s NOT as easy as it looks.
     

  3. Frances October 23, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    An interesting comment received from Chris, a permanent wheelchair user who also delivers courses based around disability for a long-established charity.
     
    I was interested to read your article on mobility scooters in the latest newsletter. Our charity has a great interest in providing and advising on the safe use of equipment so we would love to be involved in the development of a national safety scheme for scooter use. We would also be an ideal centre for co-ordinating delivery of the scheme for new drivers. I think there should be some overall scheme/course which scooter drivers would need to pass before hitting the road. It could contain elements of road sense, safety, maintenance, repair, insurance …whatever.
     
    Currently I know of a scooter driver training DVD called “Safescoot” which is promoted by Norfolk Constabulary. This came to my attention when I was collecting training resources for my various disability courses. It seems to very sensible and comprehensive.
     
    I know Metrolink (the Manchester Tram or Light Rail System) are currently running a pilot scheme which allows mobility scooters on the tram network provided the scooter driver has successfully completed a “proficiency” course run by Shopmobility Manchester.
     
    Although not a scooter user I often come into contact with them at places like the disabled seating at a sports venue, music/theatre venues or on some forms of transport. I also encounter them on the roads as I am a daily car driver.
     
    Do you want to know my personal theory?
     
    I think many scooter riders have not been long-term car drivers. Maybe an older woman has lost her husband (statistically likely), and he was the main/only car driver. She becomes isolated and is advised (naturally) to get an 8 mph road scooter to regain her independence. Now hits the road, city centre, rush hour and the rest, without that lifetime of accumulated road sense that an older car driver would have!
     
    I’d love to know if any research has been done on the background/experience of scooter drivers to back up or refute this.
     
    And honestly – this is in no way a dig at women drivers. I’m a mathematician by training so I always go by the relevant stats! (In this case men die earlier than women).
     

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  5. BRIAN WORSDALE March 16, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    MY GRANDSON IS 12YRS OLD AND HAS JUST BOUGHT A CLASS 2 MOBILITY SCOOTER ON EBAY ALTHOUGH HE
    IS NOT DISABLED IS HE ALLOWED TO USE IT ON PUBLIC FOOTPATH.
    REGARDS MR BRIAN WORSDALE.

    • Frances March 17, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Hello Brian

      I am happy to clarify the situation for you. According to guidance from the Gov.UK website, someone who is not disabled can only drive a mobility scooter if:

      • they are training a disabled person to use it
      • they are delivering it to be repaired or collecting it afterwards
      • they are demonstrating it prior to a sale

      Clearly, your grandson won’t be covered by any of those exceptions, so he shouldn’t be using it!

  6. Mobility and Comfort October 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Very interesting article about legalising mobility scooters, thank you

  7. John Willerton April 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    I know this is posted a long time after the other comments above and it’s going to be a long comment but I hope I can be of help to others. First, a few rants and raves and then I have a few suggestions to improve everyone’s lot.

    I am a new scooter user (three months experience only) and have invested in a large 8mph model. I have never been a car driver, for various reasons, and now an incurable illness means that, just as I need motor transport, I will have to wait several years and I’m likely to be past 70 before I can even consider applying for a motoring licence.
    However, I do have lots of on-road experience as I used to be a keen cyclist – 20,000 miles minimum a year. And if there’s one thing that’s certain on a bike, it’s you that’s going to be hurt in an accident even if it is 100 per cent someone else’s fault. In fact the only accidents I had on the bike were entirely my fault (cornering too fast in the wet before sliding sideways towards oncoming lorry; having total loss of brakes down a half-mile 1 in 8 due to not testing my new brakes very thoroughly before going out are among the most character-forming I can recall). I believe I stayed safe because I managed to stay alert at all times and taught myself to read the signs in the way the former fire engine driver describes.
    So I have learned to use my scooter pretty safely pretty quickly. But I have also learned a couple of new things. I would strongly suggest if you are going out at night or during dark winter afternoons you need extra lighting on your scooter. I have purchased extra rear running lights, indicators and brake lights for my machine and will this weekend be fitting them near the top of the back because I believe that the built-in lights, while fully compliant with the law, are not visible enough for motorists. Of course you can never please everyone. My machine has tiny LED headlamps and I have had several complaints that they are too bright. I will also be fitting flashing yellow beacons even though there are no local dual carriageways which I intend to use.
    But I will use the beacons on busy pavements and in shopping precincts because I have discovered that pedestrians are the most ill-disciplined and least aware of all road users. The problem is that the regulations require scooterists to give way to pedestrians at all times, even the idiots. One walked into my machine when I was parked outside a shop. I had just loaded my purchases onto the back and was taking a drink before moving off. It was in a darkish precinct so my lights were on. Nonetheless Mr I’m Reading My Smartphone bumped into me. And of course it was all my fault. His attitude was of course partly due to arrogance and partly due to this Tory government making it appear OK to vilify and bully the chronically sick and disabled.
    Incidentally, how many of you have had the snide remark “I suppose the DSS gave you that.” I do not intend to start carrying my receipt of purchase around but if I think things might escalate I make my stout stick clearly visible.
    So much for the problems we have with pedestrians.
    Most motorists I think are pretty reasonable and it seems to me the professional drivers of large lorries and buses are the most considerate of all. This of course depends on you using your scooter sensibly, positioning it correctly on the road, signalling clearly etc. Of course you will always get the bullies in 4X4s or boy racers in their Japanese bean cans trying their tricks but remember these yobs misbehave towards all other road users as well, not just you.

    That’s the majority of my newboy ranting over and part of my frustration is that I still have not got used to abandoning the bicycles. So when the scooter motor changes its tone slightly on a gentle slope I still curse and say to myself: “To think I used to glide over this bump without dropping a cog”.

    But what is the best way forward for scooterists? The problem is that even the larger ones like mine are not fast enough (or safe enough) to dice it in busy traffic on the road. But even the smaller 4mph ones are often too fast for unaware pedestrians. In other words, we fall between two stools. The only solution has to be education. People have to be made aware that these vehicles are perfectly legal and legitimate aids to mobility and if they are correctly controlled, it is up to pedestrians and motorists to accept their existence. We have a right to our independence and if we need a little machine to help, there’s nothing wrong with that. We do not seek to deprive anyone else of their rights. We are simply getting around as best as we can.
    Perhaps another clue came in the comment from a pal who said: “If you don’t pay road fund licence you shouldn’t be on the road.” He, like many, assumed there is some kind of exemption for the disabled. He seemed non-plussed when I pointed out that in this case, a disability plays no part. It is simply that all electric vehicles have been road fund exempt for years.

    So secondly, we perhaps need a more formal status. A good step might be to make basic insurance compulsory. And when you have it, there should be the compulsory display of a numbered badge, small certificate or the like. Such a badge smacks of the former car tax disc, I know, but it would tend to mark you out as a more responsible owner. (This would be also good for cyclists but heinously difficult to enforce, so it’s unlikely this government will ever bother because they want to cut the cost of policing, not increase the need for more officers).

    And finally, I see no reason why there should not be a simple test of competence for each user. If the test is correctly configured, it should take no more than ten minutes to prove you can steer properly, operate lights, signals etc, manouevre in tight spaces and perform an emergency stop. Again a badge of competence might bring about a better attitude to scooterists among other road users.

  8. Douglas Campbell April 17, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    Regrettably the guide I wrote – ‘Get Mobile, your guide to buying a scooter or powered wheelchair’ – was last updated in 2012, but is still worth a read.

    You can download it at https://www.dropbox.com/s/5cuge47hln2ibjz/getmobile%202012.pdf?dl=0

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