Mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs have increasingly become popular with many Australian's of all ages. They have proven to be a much prefered and affordable alternative to cars and provide even greater independence when used in conjunction with public transport.
Because scooters and wheelchairs have the ability to be used practically everywhere in today's society, all users need to understand and practice the appropriate rules when driving their scooter in different locations. While rules and regulations can differ from state to state and country to country, there are several basic rules that everyone should practice when driving mobility equipment.
Learning How To Drive Your Scooter
Firstly we would suggest that you read the manual and learn about the specific features and controls of your scooter. When possible, don't be afraid to ask your retailer for training and a demonstration of how to use your mobility equipment safely. We would also recommend that you test drive and get familiar with your scooter in a low-risk open area. This will help you get more comfortable with your new equipment while minimising any potential risks to yourself and others.
What skills do I need to operate a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair?
- Ability to judge speeds and distances
- Detect obstacles and avoid accidents
- Operate controls, handles and buttons
- Keep your balance when sitting
- Making good judgements to protect yourself and others around you
Road Rules and Safety
It is essential to know and understand the rules before driving around town on your scooter or wheelchair. It is often misunderstood that mobility scooters and gophers are classified an operate like road vehicles. But this is not the case. People that are using mobility scooters or wheelchairs are classified as pedestrians and must adhere to the same road rules as other pedestrians. Mobility devices must not be driven on the road where there is a footpath or nature strip available. If driving on the road is necessary, adhere to the standard road rules and stick to the left. Here a few more safety tips for implementing when using your mobility equipment:
- Never sit on a scooter while it is being transported in a vehicle, even if it is tied down.
- Do not drive with more than one person on the scooter/wheelchair.
- Always lean forward when driving up an incline, and try to avoid hill starts on steep slopes. If you need to start on a hill, always lean forward and start slowly.
Poorly Maintained Paths and Infrastructure
Unfortunately, many paved areas and bitumen footpaths have been left to deteriorate and are not well maintained by local governments. This means you have to be diligent in identifying any potential risks when driving on footpaths. Some potential hazards to look out for include loose or cracked concrete, tree roots that are protruding through the pavement and potholes in the road.
If you experience any of these hazards on your daily commute, don't hesitate to write to your local government member and point out the potential dangers that the poor infrastructure poses to you and the general public.
Properly Maintaining Your Scooter
To ensure that you are never left stranded, it is important to have your scooter/wheelchair properly serviced and maintained. Mechanical or electrical issues that are left unattended may lead to potentially dangerous situations, so it is good practice to have your mobility equipment serviced at least every 12 months.
Protective Clothing and Visibility
Because you may be driving your mobility scooter/wheelchair in several different locations, it is always a good idea to make yourself and your scooter as visible as possible. We recommend wearing Hi-Vis or bright clothing, especially when driving on roads and at night. You might also want to consider attaching a safety flag to your mobility equipment as it is a great way to alert other road users. While it is not currently mandatory to wear a seatbelt or a helmet when driving your mobility equipment, they are both options that can further increase your safety.
Planning Your Journey
It is essential to pre-plan your journey before you set out on your trip. There are some key factors that you should pay attention to when mapping out your route. This includes where traffic light crossings are, roads that have well-paved footpaths, zebra crossings and walk bridges. Public transport maps can also be a helpful reference to assist you in planning out your route if you intend to travel by bus, train or ferry.
I hope this article has outlined some safety precautions that you will implement into your daily routines when driving your mobility device. Stay safe out there and take care.