Operators too fast and too close to shops
By Michael Giles
MANY mobility scooter drivers are simply travelling too fast on the footpath.
And they also go too close, at speed, across the doorways of shops and offices in the CBD… but no one, it seems, is prepared to do anything about it.
However the issue has received a higher profile in the past week after the wife of a NSW Nationals Senator received serious injuries when she was hit by a scooter coming out of her office in the country town of Bingara, 100km east of Moree.
Although you’d have to say the owner of the Bingara Advocate, Nancy Capel, was particularly unlucky to be hit by a person riding a mobility scooter in a town of just 1100 people!
But it just amplifies the fact that such hazards exist in all towns, with near misses in places like Wonthaggi and Leongatha a daily occurrence.
According Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams, his partner Nancy Capel, owner of The Bingara Advocate newspaper, was stepping out of her office in the regional New South Wales town earlier this month when she was hit by a scooter.
Her injuries were serious and she has now undergone surgery for a total hip replacement.
“She took literally one step out of the office and the gopher hit her,” Senator Williams told ABC radio last week.
“One of the staff looked out and all she saw was Nancy literally airborne and she landed on her left hip and just smashed her left hip to pieces.
“What if she had landed on her head? I could be preparing a funeral today.”
The senator has called for tougher regulation of scooter drivers in the wake of the crash, but stressed he did not want to see them banned, given the important role they played in helping people with mobility issues getting around.
Because the fact is that mobility scooter drivers are not actually breaking the law even when they are operating their devices unsafely.
Under the Road Safety Act (1986) and the Victorian Road Rules, mobility scooters “must be limited to a maximum capable speed of 10km/h on level ground and a maximum unladen mass of 110kg. And they can only be used by people with an injury, disability or medical condition which means they are unable to walk or have difficulty in walking”.
“People who do not have difficulty in walking are not permitted to use them.
“People using these devices or manual wheelchairs are considered pedestrians, and therefore must obey the same road rules as pedestrians.”
However, while it is legal to travel at 10km/h on the footpath, this speed is, in reality, too fast for safety in what is supposed to be a pedestrian space, where most people are walking at 5km/h or less.
The speed, 10km/h is actually jogging pace, not walking pace, and if you crashed into someone at that speed, you would expect there to be injuries.
It’s too fast to be going in a shopping precinct and the rules should be changed.
There are also no rules relating to driving a scooter fast across the doorway of a shop or office, where the unfortunate Senator’s wife had her accident “…literally one step out of the office”.
Readers of the Sentinel-Times say they have also been hit or had near-misses when stepping out of a shop doorway.
It means that shoppers and pedestrians are going to have to take new precautions to protect themselves and to be on the lookout, especially when coming out of a shop.
But, there needs to be more awareness on the part of mobility scooter operators too and travelling at slow walking pace on CBD footpaths would be a start.
Driving clear of shop doorways would be another worthwhile practice.
The other issue, addressed in the Road Safety Act, but with no compliance protocols or penalties, is who actually qualifies to drive a mobility scooter.
As the rules state, “people who do not have difficulty in walking are not permitted to use them” but it’s clear some people are flouting this rule with impunity.
Top tips for scooter safety
BASS Coast Council, it seems, doesn’t have a particular role in mobility scooter safety.
The police aren’t enforcing the rules either.
Neither VicRoads nor the local road safety committees have an active awareness campaign.
And now, since you can buy a mobility scooter almost anywhere, no one is giving out advice on how these devices should be operated legally and safely.
“The shire doesn’t have a policy on mobility scooter use, but we do list these tips on each of our Mobility Maps for Cowes, Inverloch and Wonthaggi,” said a spokesperson for the council.
• People using mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs are considered to be pedestrians and therefore must obey the same road rules as pedestrians.
• Footpaths are safer than roads. However where footpaths are unavailable, plan your trip to using quieter roads, where possible.
• When travelling on the road, you must travel facing the oncoming traffic if practicable to do so.
• Slow down near other people, especially pedestrians, cyclists, older people and children.
• Keep to the left where possible when passing other mobility users or pedestrians.
• Pedestrian crossings and traffic islands are the safest places to cross roads. Use Mobility Maps to help plan your travel. Otherwise cross at a well-lit, quiet, straight section of the road.
• Mobility scooter users and other pedestrians must give way to motor vehicles at roundabouts.
• Avoid crossing at roundabouts as motorists have to look in many directions and therefore it may be more difficult to see you.
• Be aware of people exiting buildings in shopping strips. When parking or stopping keep clear of doorways, gateways or driveways.
• Other people use footpaths as well. Drive and park your vehicle so that other people can move along the footpath freely.
• Mobility scooters should be driven in single file, not side-by-side.