The trouble with mobility scooters is…

…disinformation and bigotry.

On May 2, the Guardian published an article, by Amelia Gentleman, called The trouble with mobility scooters.

I took exception to some of the content, and on Twitter I expressed the opinion that I expected better of Ms. Gentleman. The result, after an exchange of tweets with Ms. Gentleman, which Twitter, in its usual inept way, has lost/deleted, is what follows – somewhat delayed, I’m afraid, but it’s been a bad week health-wise. For that reason, too, it’s not my best work. Sorry about that, but not a lot I can do.

There’s much I didn’t respond to in the original, but that’s because I judged it to be manufacturers’ PR puffery, like the absurd allegation that disabled bikers are taken by the TGA Supersport because it looks like a Harley. Well, no it doesn’t (the black variant that tries very hard to rock the Harley vibe just looks sad – I can see kids liking it, but ex bikers? – no way), and this ex biker wouldn’t have one as a gift, not least because you need a shed or garage, with an electrical supply, to store one. as they’re too big to take indoors (scooters and powerchairs like to be cosseted, not left in the cold and damp). They’re prone to rust, too, based on the handful I’ve seen over the years – not good for a machine aimed at disabled people who might not be able to keep the thing polished.

Apologies for the length, at over 3.5k words, but as I’ve said in my posts about writing, these things find their own length and, though I have edited it down a tad, nothing of consequence has been omitted.

Some of you might not agree with some of my opinions, but I would ask you to bear in mind that they reflect my experience in 20 years as a powerwheelie. Your experience might be different – that doesn’t make either of us wrong.

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Response to The trouble with mobility scooters

My apologies for the delay in responding to your mobility scooter article, but I’m terminally ill and most days, lately, writing is beyond me, other than trying to keep my blog going.

In my view the law, and the seemingly haphazard way it’s applied to mobility scooters, is at the heart of most of the problems. Take road-legal Class 3 machines, with speeds of 6 or 8mph (I have a Sunrise Medical Sterling Diamond, black with alloy wheels, and one of the smaller Class 3, 8mph machines, so I can get it into my flat).

I have to register it with the DVLA, who issue a tax disc. Bizarrely, however, unlike with a car, disabled people simply cannot download the requisite form from the DVLA website (nor are we able, all too often, to go trekking off to the “local” office which, in my case, is in Chester, so it might as well be on the moon), neither do manufacturers automatically supply a certificate of newness – required to register the machine – and the process becomes immensely tedious and long-winded. Naturally enough, most people don’t bother.

Where I think the system falls down is in the lack of compulsion to comply with the law – like other vehicles, Class 3 scooters (and powerchairs), should be supplied already registered. They should also have rear number plates, like bikes, if for no other reason than to make ill-informed motorists aware that they have every right to be on the road.

Also like cars, the registration should be transferred to the new owner if/when it’s sold, and the DVLA notified.  And, of course, the new owner must re-register it with the DVLA.

New scooters and powerchairs are exempt from VAT when sold to disabled people, who have to sign a declaration stating their disability. However, there is no check on the validity of these declarations (like, perhaps, the need to produce a DLA entitlement letter for higher-rate mobility, as there is for a blue badge**), and absolutely nothing stopping an able-bodied person buying a new road-legal, 8mph scooter (or any other exempt device for that matter), if they’re prepared to lie.

**Though people can still be disabled and not get DLA, as we’re finding out to our cost.

I’ve been filling in VAT-exemption declarations since 1986 – no-one as ever followed up to check whether I am disabled, or even whether I exist.

I think VAT also applies when buying second-hand too, if buying from a dealer, so the same declaration is needed.

I’d question your assertion that scooters can be picked up for as little as £100 though. I don’t doubt that you could get something at that price, but when you consider these things can cost as much as a decent, if modest, used car, and sometimes as much as a new one, for £100 what you’ll mostly be buying is scrap. It would cost more than that for batteries.

Like cars, I see no way of regulating private sales, but sales via dealers could be, without too much difficulty, if the law required proof of disability and photo ID (just to make sure Uncle Albert’s DLA letter isn’t used fraudulently), again, though, those not disabled enough to claim DLA, or who have fallen foul of Atos, would be unfairly penalised. There is no answer that would be universally fair.

As for insurance, I see no need for change. It would be blatant discrimination to force scooter and powerchair users to insure and not, say, cyclists.

Assessment and training, though, are a problem area. Anybody buying a scooter or powerchair from a dealer is supposed to be fairly rigorously assessed first, in terms of their physical ability to control the machine, and their eyesight. I have never been assessed at all, in fact my scooter and my current powerchair I bought online. I’m not a problem, though – I’ve been on the road since my teens, and a scooter and powerchair user for 30 years – if I don’t know what I’m doing now, I never will.

Training, though, simply doesn’t exist but, then, nor does it for cyclists, and I think in these areas, it would be unfair to single out one without the other (and powerchairs should, of course, always be considered alongside scooters – they have the same capabilities and the law does not discriminate, referring simply to “vehicles”).

One thing from your article I would take specific issue with is this:-

Whereas wheelchair users tend to be unable to walk, scooter users often can, but with difficulty.

Not true. Not even slightly – this is an all too common perception, based entirely on ignorance. Ambulatory problems aside, whether to use a powerchair or a scooter often comes down to one thing – money. With few exceptions, like my new one

(http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/getting-a-new-powerchair/   ),

powerchairs are very much more expensive than scooters. My Class 3 scooter cost £1,300. A Class 3 powerchair I had a few years ago, £6,000 – it turned out to be illegal for use in the UK and I got rid of it.

So while a person might actually be better served by a powerchair, what they can afford is likely to be a scooter (I was lucky, my new chair is currently heavily discounted to around 50% of its £3k price tag).

And that’s also one reason, quite possibly the main one, why there are so many scooters around.

Aside from those people who actually are “confined” to wheelchairs – a term that attracts the PC police but, nevertheless, is apposite in some cases – many powerchair users do have some walking ability, as do I, with crutches or, at home, with a stick.

A short digression. While it is, in theory, possible to get a powerchair from the NHS, tailored to suit one’s requirements, this is very much a postcode lottery. In Wirral, where I live, the chances are as close to zero as makes no difference, while an online friend in the Midlands has been provided with an excellent chair, personally adapted for her. For most disabled people, though, the only way to get wheels is to pay for them out of our benefits.

The following, too, is increasingly untrue, and in my experience always has been:-

wheelchairs elicit understanding from passersby while mobility scooters trigger irritation.

It’s a fact that, of late, wheelchair users have been attacked, and one woman was stoned. See http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2011-1/august/10/woman_in_wheelchair_stoned.aspx  There have been other examples, too, which you’re better placed to track down in the Guardian’s archives.

Personally, I’ve never had a major problem. This could be because I look thuggish (I’m really a pussycat), and it’s a look I’ve cultivated as I’ve become increasingly disabled. If you look capable of ripping someone’s arm off and beating them bloody with it, they tend to leave you alone. These days, though, if my bluff’s called, I’m in serious trouble!

The fact is, though, that the way that I’ve been perceived has not been influenced one iota by whether I’ve had a scooter or a powerchair.

As for delaying cars on the road, sorry I have no sympathy for them. They can very easily make up the few seconds they lose.

It is true, sadly, that some scooter users are careless about what they bang into, but I simply don’t believe that it’s a major problem, not least because in almost any sort of  a bump hard enough to inflict damage, the scooter would also suffer expensive damage. In my experience more damage is caused by manual wheelchairs and Rollators (wheeled walkers), than scooters (I have photographic evidence from my own building to prove it, taken when they tried to force scooter users to have insurance because of the damage they allegedly caused, which is zero in my case, though my previous powerchair did take a few lumps out of door frames!).

But, staying with scooters. the big problem – and given my age I hate to say this, but it’s true – is old people. Not all old people are a liability, obviously, but many are. Their reactions are slow, vision often poor, and mental acuity sometimes compromised. And their ignorance of the law is all too often complete.

In addition, they mostly have no idea how to dress to stay warm and dry (think back – how many women have you seen on scooters, or powerchairs, in voluminous skirts, which are dangerous in wind or the draught from a passing truck or bus?), and once you get cold, or are fighting to hold your skirt down, you no longer have full control. Luckily, as a former biker and backpacker, I know about staying warm and dry (being swathed in blankets is NOT the answer, and I’ve put all that into my blog too, not least because even at 8mph, in winter the wind chill can be substantial.

Again, there’s something I’m afraid I have to take issue with:-

A decade ago these were products used only by very frail people;

Not so. Simply because the physical input needed to pilot a scooter precludes their use by very frail people. I’ve known many scooter users in my time (I got my first scooter in 1992), and I’ve seen many more in passing – I’ve never encountered one who could be called frail, never mind very frail.

I don’t doubt that some frail people, somewhere, did/do have scooters (someone, somewhere, has had, or done, almost everything, and they are probably the source of the “used once” second-hand scooter ads), but saying they were used only by very frail people is completely wrong. Then, as now, very frail people, among whom, these days, I number myself (though I don’t look it I’m extremely weak), used powerchairs if they could afford them.

Scooters do take a fair bit of user input, and, whether on the road or pavement, one is always steering the thing against a camber which, over a journey of several miles, puts a strain on the shoulders (anything on wheels tends to self-steer down a camber and has to be constantly corrected). The hands take quite a pounding too, especially on models without suspension – not good for arthritis.

In contrast, no matter how frail you are, if you have only a little movement in one hand, as long as you have your wits about you, you can operate the joystick of a powerchair – and that’s all it takes (actually, if you have no hand movement at all it’s still possible, but that’s another story). You just sit there and relax. With experience it’s like riding a bike, muscle memory takes over from conscious input. In fact, if you over-think it, just like a bike, it gets harder to control.

More wrong information. This, from Shaun Greenhalgh, is arrant nonsense:-

“The problem now is that people drive them very badly, they put them on full speed in shopping centres,” he says, showing how a switch, not much bigger than a toothpaste tube lid, can be turned to the right to reach 8mph (which is the out-of-town limit; 4mph is the top speed allowed in urban areas).

Accepting that the first part happens, the rest is just wrong. 8mph is the on-road speed for Class 3 machines, which must be capable of being switched down to 4mph if used on the pavement. 4mph machines are only pavement legal. That’s what the law says, though it’s often safer on the road for Class 2 machines.**.  I was going to give you a link to the legislation, but the DfT have archived it, and provided a broken link for the archived material. See footnote for the main details, which I’d luckily copied to my blog.

By the way, that wasn’t a switch you were shown, it was actually the speed control knob, which is the size and shape you describe, and which isn’t legal for 4mph control as it is utterly impossible to set for a specific speed, not least because scooters don’t have speedos – to comply with the law it has to be a toggle switch, clearly labelled Hi/Lo or some variant of that, like this, my scooter, with supplementary lights. Or, perhaps, a button. Whatever, it has to be a pre-set 4mph.

Though the law just states “device” stretching that to include a knob with no pre-set positions  is too much of a reach.  I investigated all this, in depth, some years ago, when I got saddled with a Class 3 chair that failed to comply with the law in this and in many other ways.

**The reason for that is riding on the pavement leaves you exposed to pedestrians, stepping out of the gate, or front door, or shop doors, as if they were alone in the universe (watch them – they never look to see whose path they’re stepping into). There is also a very real risk, in many areas, especially early in the morning, of being T-boned by some idiot motorist reversing out of their drive – they, too, never think about anyone else – one reason why both my powerchair and scooter are fitted with air horns. I’ll live longer. Horns fitted as standard are a joke – about as loud as a wasp in a jam-jar.

More nonsense from Greenhalgh:-

Go to a pub, you’ll see them parked outside. We need to stop able-bodied people from using them.

He simply cannot know, if he sees a scooter outside a pub,  whether or not the user is disabled. To assume that they are not is crass – bigotry, pure and simple. I really think you should have called him on that one, especially the strong implication that disabled people shouldn’t be in a pub.

I used mine to go to the pub for many years. I did that with powerchairs too, though they went inside with me. Nor is there any reason why I, or any other disabled person shouldn’t go to the pub on our scooters, as long as we comply with the law (don’t get drunk). The only reason I no longer use mine is that there is no pub within reach that I want to go to, so I use a taxi to go further afield.

Sadly, you also felt it appropriate to give space to MP Alison Seabeck’s “But you don’t look sick” attitude – which is all too common and is no different to any other form of bigotry aimed at disabled people, not least by the toxic, lying, government.

I’d question Seabeck’s choice of words too, saying she saw a woman “leap out of her mobility vehicle, rush into the shops, come back with heavy bags and spring back into it”.

Absolute garbage – it simply could not happen as described. You do not “leap out” of a scooter. You are on it, not in it – it’s basically a motorised seat, and you step off. Likewise the idea of “springing back into it” is the purest bovine ordure – you simply sit on it and trundle away. And just how much time did Seabeck spend spying on this woman – clearly long enough for her to buy more than one heavy bag of shopping? And where did she put these bags, since she clearly spent no time at all stashing her shopping?

Scooters aren’t great at load carrying (the traditional “hang a bag on the seatback” approach is likely to damage the angle control mechanism), unless,  like me, you fit cycle panniers to the armrests (something I’ve also done with my powerchair). I’d venture to suggest there is very little, if any, truth in this at all. That, or Seabrook is overly prone to extremes of hyperbole, which is rarely a good thing in a politician.  If this wasn’t a Labour MP I’d suspect this mad tale of having come straight from the IDS Lie Factory. Frankly, it beggars belief. She then goes on to say “Of course, you can’t judge the nature of someone’s disability by looking at them;” having, of course, just done exactly that.

I’d like, if I may, to refer you to the Spoon Theory web page, part of the But You Don’t Look Sick (BYDLS) website

http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory-written-by-christine-miserandino/

And my own blog post, which expands on the theory somewhat

http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/do-you-know-any-spoonies-and-do-you-understand-them/

The theory explains, for the hard of thinking, like Seabeck, just how it is that one can look well and yet not be.

The bydls attitude is one that poisons much of society, from the top down, the belief being that if you don’t look sick, you cannot be sick. Which is as obscene as it is perverse. Many people don’t look sick – those with diabetes, epilepsy, autism, a whole range of mental illnesses, cancer, even – doesn’t mean they’re not sick though.

I don’t look sick either. OK, I’m a little more gaunt that I was a year ago, which actually isn’t a bad look.

Even so, I’m still dying, and it’s statistically unlikely that I’ll see  2013.

One last thing, not entirely unrelated to the foregoing:-

Many of us in the disabled community believe that Cameron’s Pogrom is punishing us for the fact that we’re still alive and, by his perverted lights, “thriving” on benefits, while his son, Ivan, is dead.

Others believe that he is using Ivan as a benchmark against which we’re all judged and, inevitably, found wanting.

Personally, I think both are correct.

I also very strongly believe that, on the subject of his hatred for the sick and disabled, David Cameron is clinically insane, and that this insanity has also affected IDS’s judgement, though he was a despicable apology for a human being to begin with.

I also feel, and I’m far from alone in this, especially if he gets a second term with a majority, which is not as impossible as some believe, that Cameron would withdraw disability benefits entirely, housing the chronically sick and disabled in camps, unless they have families who can take care of them, because that will be all the country can afford. And, by that time, there are likely to be so many of us starving and homeless, that it will look like altruism, forgetting, of course, that he put us there.

There is historical precedent, and we all know how that ended.

There’s a feeling that this might, in fact, happen sooner – how else are they to get a further £10bn in cuts, short of culling us?

Apologies for the rant, but it’s not often I have the attention of a journalist.

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NB: These are the legal requirements for a Class 3 scooter or powerchair (the law makes no distinction):-

The vehicle must have certain construction features, including:-

  • a maximum unladen weight of 150 kg (330 lbs);
  • a maximum width of 0.85 metres (2’9″);
  • a device to limit its speed to 6.4 kph (4 mph);
  • a maximum speed of 12.8 kph (8 mph);
  • an efficient braking system;
  • front and rear lights and reflectors, and direction indicator which are able to operate as a hazard warning signal;
  • an audible warning instrument (horn);
  • a rear view mirror;
  • an amber flashing light if a 4-wheeled vehicle is used on a dual carriageway.
  • If these conditions are not met, you are liable to prosecution by the police.

Mysteriously, it omits the requirement to obtain and display a tax disc.

The trouble with mobility scooters is

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3 thoughts on “The trouble with mobility scooters is…

  1. A very interesting piece. I am a mum and carer of a 29 yr old son with multiple problems, who has started to need a wheelchair and could really use a powered one (if we can find a more adaptable place to live), You have given me some great points to consider and I hope many others read it.

  2. The PDF document download links at this website:

    http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/dft-2010-10/

    give some details of the proposed changes to the legislation regarding powerchairs & mobility scooters in England & Wales. The British government will most likely alter some of these details before the final draft, and I bet the greedy sods will insist upon compulsory insurance soon.

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    At times I really don’t understand why there are those who oppose the use of mobility scooters and powerchairs on the public roads and in some cases, the public pavement. I use my scooter everyday to exercise my dogs. I fit hi-viz vests to both of my dogs and have a hi-viz jacket fitted to the back of my scooter’s seat as I question the ability of some motorists to actually see a scooter, cyclist or a horse on the road in front of them. Far too many road users cannot look further than the front of their vehicle whilst driving and I bet 99.99% of them exceed the speed limits anyway. Luckily, I’ve had only a few incidences that had me shaking my head in disbelief.

    One young male driver, was so impatient that he drove on the pavement to overtake me while I was passing parked cars and then cut me off to pull over and park just 20 metres later outside of his home. I got the usual foul mouth reply from him when I stopped and asked him if he had actually passed his driving test as his road craft was none existent.

    On another occasion, I correctly positioned my scooter in order to turn right, when a divvie overtook me on the right instead of undertaking me, even though my noisy right indicator was flashing AND I had given a right turn arm signal too!

    However, when my leashed dogs (leash is not hand-held) are cantering along the left side of my scooter on the way to and from my local bridleway, I stay well over to the left when I want to turn right if there are any vehicles behind me. That way, my dogs are just that little bit saver from these motoring morons.

    However, another incident that had me in two minds whether to say something was when I was driving at a snail’s pace on the pavement during a visit to my local post office as the road there is a bus lane and we scooter users are banned from using such lanes. I stopped and asked a young mother to excuse me after parking her baby’s pram in a way that caused it to stick out in front of a bench seat, rather than at the side of the bench. What’s more, she was bending over to look into the pram and her oversized derrière was blocking my passage. I waited patiently until she was finished and moved out of my way (the pram was not the problem) and I thanked her as I passed. That was when I heard her say under her breath to her friend that scooter users are a pain in the arse and should be banned from public areas. I decided to ignore her remark as there’s no point arguing with anyone who has a child with them.

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