Mobility scooters are a lifeline for many disabled people. They provide users with a much-needed sense of independence and the ability to lead a more fulfilling and active life. However, using mobility scooters comes with a series of challenges, not least of which is safely operating a scooter in busy public areas. Of particular concern is the fact that some scooters can be difficult to control in complex environments such as shopping centres, putting both users and members of the public at potential risk.
Now a new initiative by the Department for Transport (DfT) has been launched, that will see it working alongside mobility providers and the BHTA to not only look at how life can be made easier for users, but how training could also improve how users operate scooters while out and about.
They are also set to look at the current marketplace and identify which types of scooters are most suitable for public transport.
Draft Action Plan
A draft ‘Action Plan’ has been issued by the government, outlining its concerns about the use of mobility scooters, and in particular the lack of training that users get before being allowed out on public paths. During research for the plan, it found that many users are unfamiliar with the basic controls of their scooters, and the rules of the road concerning the use of such vehicles both on paths and on the road. It also highlighted that some larger, more powerful scooters may be unsuitable for use in certain areas, such as in enclosed shopping centres or malls, or on narrow paths.
The DfT plans to tackle these problems by working with the manufacturers as well as mobility centres and the Driving Mobility Network to raise awareness, and provide operator training.
Working with Mobility Centres
While the action plan sets out a series of specific measures the DfT would like to put in place, the emphasis is also firmly on mobility centres to ensure that users receive adequate instruction on how to operate scooters, especially the larger, more powerful models.
The plan is to also consult with other groups, such as local authorities, transport regulators, consumer groups and those who provide care and support for users with both physical and mental health challenges.
What the initiative doesn’t want to do is to take away the choice that mobility scooter users have, or restrict the use of scooters and deny the disabled access to any public areas. But it does put in place a framework whereby the responsible use of mobility scooters ensures not just the safety and wellbeing of the user, but also the public. Accidents involving mobility scooters are surprisingly common, and injuries caused by a collision with a mobility scooter, or by a user being thrown from a scooter, can be severe.
Improving Life for Disabled Travellers
The initiative also wants to look at improving accessibility and disabled toilets on the railway network, as well as investigating the effectiveness of the Blue Badge parking system. It will also be looking at the experience of disabled air travellers, and how well the UK’s airports cope with the needs of disabled passengers, both on the ground and in the air.
Overall, the new initiative represents a more joined-up approach towards transport for the disabled, which is to be welcomed. Paul Maynard, the Parliamentary under-secretary for the DfT, stressed the importance of communicating with interested parties such as carers and user groups, to get a better understanding of the challenges faced on the ground by real people.
He added that: “This draft accessibility action plan is the next step in a much-needed dialogue with disabled people, carers, transport providers and local authorities to identify new ways to improve travel. It sets out the government’s strategy to address gaps in our transport services which serve as a barrier to people with disabilities.”
Hopefully, the DfT’s initiative will make life easier and much more mobile for disabled people in the future.