A parliamentary committee has recommended that federal road and transport agencies start researching 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 looked into the safety and regulation of mobility scooters following the deaths of 129 scooter users and three pedestrians between 2000-2017, and the hospitalisation of 350 older mobility scooter drivers a year based on data from 2006-2009.
The report, tabled in parliament yesterday, calls for funding for research and consultation to “inform the establishment of a nationally consistent regulatory framework for motorised mobility devices” including “simple and low-cost licensing and registration arrangements, as well as third party insurance”.
People who use the electric vehicles in Australia currently don’t require a licence, insurance or health checks to be allowed behind the wheel.
The committee noted in its report that mobility scooters have become increasingly important to older Australians, as well many younger people with disabilities, because they can provide access to the local community that is otherwise denied to them.
Number of mobility devices expected to increase
According to the peak organisation for Australasian road transport and traffic agencies, Austroads, there are currently more than 156, 000 motorised mobility devices in use across Australia.
Australia’s ageing population, and the roll-out of the NDIS, means there is likely to be a significant increase in this number over the coming years, Austroads says.
“As Australia’s population ages, the ability for older people to remain mobile, and retain both their independence and connections with the community will become increasingly more important,” the report says.
“Motorised mobility devices have become one way older Australians, and those with a disability are able to access services and maintain their links with the community.
“They provide a relatively inexpensive way for people to maintain their quality of life and enhance their overall health and wellbeing, and their feeling of social inclusion.”
However the committee said it had also received a number of submissions raising concerns about accidents and near-misses as well as incidents where the devices had been driven at inappropriately high speeds or by people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“To counter such misuse, a number of stakeholders argued that mobility devices should be licensed, registered and appropriately insured,” the report said.
Monash University’s department of forensic medicine said in its submission that the widespread use of motorised mobility devices first became evident twenty years ago and the first reports of serious safety concerns started to arise in 2006.
Despite this, data was patchy and there were many regulatory shortfalls.
“Strategies are needed to decrease rider injuries associated with MMS whilst meeting community mobility needs,” it said.
The consumer group COTA expressed concern that the committee’s recommendations might “inadvertently inhibit older Australians from moving about freely. COTA said developing age-friendly cities and policies that enhanced social inclusion and healthy ageing should be considered before changes to policy and regulation.
Occupational Therapy Australia warned that if increased regulation disadvantaged people with limited mobility or disabilities it could be in breach of national anti-discrimination laws.
“The issue of mobility scooter usage should be considered part of an urgent broader government approach to improving transport options … and providing accessible environments for all Australians, particularly those in rural and regional locations, and as our population ages,” the professional association said.
The committee concluded that it was of the view that mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs were of significant benefit to many in the community, including older people and people with a disability, in terms of allowing them to remain engaged and independent.
“Any future regulation of mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs needs to be evidence-based and must recognise the importance of safety – of users and others – but not add any additional barriers or make access and inclusion any more difficult for a frequently marginalised section of our community,” they said.
You can read the committee’s report here.