Mobility Scooters: Legally Not Vehicles
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 In two of them, the person pleaded guilty, and in the other two, the charges were withdrawn.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?
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Further reading and resources
The IL guide to mobility scooters can be found here
We have tips on safe use of scooters here