Mobility Scooters (HC 414-i)
Transport Committee 3 Mar 2010
Evidence given by
2.45 p.m. Help the Aged/Age concern Greg Lewis, Programme Manager DPTAC (Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee) Dai Powell OBE, Chair of DPTAC Disability Essex Richard Boyd, Chief Executive
3.15 pm Norfolk Constabulary Superintendent Jim Smerdon Penny Carpenter, Crime Prevention Officer Merseytravel Neil Scales, Chief Executive Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Kevin Clinton, Head of Road Safety Nexus Ken Mackay, Director of Rail and Infrastructure
3.45 pm Living Streets Phillipa Hunt, Head of Policy and Communications RAC Foundation Elizabeth Box Arriva UK Bus Mark Yexley, Operations and Commercial Director
4.15 pm Department for Transport Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Minister of State Tim Crayford, Chief Medical Advisor
Q11 Mr. David Clelland: So you believe that the current legislation regarding the use of these scooters is not clear and is not adequate.
Mr Boyd: Of course it is not clear. We have a Class III scooter at Rochford station available for visitors to our centre. We have taxed it and it is insured and it has a registration number, which is the law. I defy you to tell me the last time you saw a Class III mobility scooter with a number plate, tax disc or insurance certificate on it. That is the law of the land but it is just not administered and nobody cares or knows about it.
Q12 Mr. David Clelland: Do the police have enough powers to stop people who are using these scooters from using them in this manner?
Mr Boyd: The powers are there. We had the classic case two years ago in Harlow of a drunk coming out of a pub on a Class III motor scooter, considered himself too drunk to drive on the road so he drove on the pavement, fell off the pavement into a ditch, the scooter fell on him. He rang the police on his mobile, the police attended, pulled the scooter off him, charged him with drunken driving and there was no case to answer because he did not have a licence.
Q13 Mr. David Clelland: So should existing road traffic legislation apply to mobility scooters when they are used on the road?
Mr Boyd: Yes, it should.
Q14 Mr. David Clelland: That implies therefore, presumably, a degree of training, even perhaps having to have some sort of driving licence for these scooters. Is that correct?
Mr Boyd: We suggested a permit to drive. At the moment I could go and borrow a scooter from Sainsbury's and go straight into Sainsbury's and drive it. We suggested a permit to drive. We suggested it should be an inducement that the voluntary sector did the permit to drive, just like the Cycling Proficiency Test, that RoSPA should be the defining standard setter. It could be provided by the voluntary sector and insurance could be discounted if you have the permit to drive. So there was an inducement to take a quality test. What I find particularly interesting is this statement by the Minister, which I received on 22 February, last week, that the Government want to see access to cycle training for every child. A scooter with a 15-stone man on it weighs double that and it goes at eight miles an hour. If that hits you, you will notice it. Why do we not have the same rules for children on cycles applying to people on mobility scooters? We do not want to discourage people from using scooters. We want to encourage them, but we want to protect them and other people from being hit by them.
Q21 Mr. David Clelland: Should manufacturers be involved more in limiting the speed these scooters can go at? At the moment it is eight miles an hour. You would not like to be hit by something going eight miles an hour and that sort of weight. Should they be restricted to walking pace, for instance?
Mr Lewis: Mobility scooters Class II are restricted currently to four miles an hour because they are used on pavements.
Q22 Mr. David Clelland: Physically restricted? They cannot go more than four miles an hour?
Mr Lewis: They are limited to four miles an hour. There is some evidence that they can be delimited. I have no further information about that. I am sure it is possible. I would go back to the point I made earlier that cyclists can achieve significantly higher speeds than that. Class III mobility scooters travel at eight miles an hour because they are designed to travel on the highway. I would again suggest that eight miles an hour is not a significant speed to be attained by such a vehicle in those circumstances, but Help the Aged and Age Concern are not arguing for an increase in speeds. You do make a very good point about the way that these vehicles are sold to individuals and we support the code of practice of the British Healthcare Trades Association and we believe it is the point of sale that is most important here because this is where adequate training can be given to prospective users of these vehicles. Certainly if somebody came in and was demonstrably blind or had significant eyesight difficulties, that would be something that could be addressed at the point of sale. The sale of insurance could be addressed at the point of sale. This is probably where this code of practice needs to be enforced by retailers. Having said all that, I do accept that one of the problems is the sale of second-hand scooters where this sort of assessment of a user cannot be carried out in the same way.
Q23 Mr. David Clelland: Should users be required to wear protective clothing, such as helmets?
Mr Lewis: Cyclists are not required to at this time although, as a cyclist myself, I wear one all the time and I know most of my cycling friends and colleagues do. I would not suggest that protective clothing is a necessity but, again, it comes back probably to getting proper statistics about the level and types of injuries. I do not think you can say what type of protective clothing would be suitable unless we know what types of injuries are caused when accidents happen involving these scooters.
Q54 Mr. David Clelland: I know the answer to this but perhaps Mr Mackay could enlighten the rest of the Committee on why Tyne-and-Wear banned mobility scooters from the Metro system in 2008.
Mr Mackay: I appreciate that because of the short notice we have not given any written evidence, so if you want me to expand on any points, please feel free to ask. Perhaps we have been a victim of our own success. The Tyne-and-Wear Metro was designed and built in the late 1970s and the very early 1980s. It is a very accessible system. Right from the beginning we have had stairs, ramps and escalators to all stations and we have pretty level boarding between the platform and the train at all stations, the basic premise being that the system is a system accessible to everybody, irrespective of whether they have a disability or not; they may just be carrying heavy luggage or they may be a young mother with a pushchair or something like that. We operated very successfully on this basis for about 27 years and then in the space of one year, between May 2007 and April 2008, we had four instances where motorised scooters ended up on the track; two of these instances being where the scooter was mishandled on the platform and dropped directly onto the track and, even more worryingly, two instances where the scooter driver actually drove right through the train. The train came into the station, the doors opened, the scooter driver drove onto the train, crashed into the doors on the other side of the train, the doors were broken, they opened and the scooter and the driver landed on the track. As you can imagine, that was a bit of a shock to us the first time it happened.
Q55 Chairman: When did this happen?
Mr Mackay: The first instance happened in May 2007 and the second instance was April 2008. The first time it happened we thought it was a complete one-off and we undertook a risk assessment about the interface between the train and the platform and, whilst not ideal, we thought with sufficient additional warning and communication to scooter users through the various means we have we could enhance the duty of care by the scooter operator. After the second time it happened we reviewed our procedures and came to the conclusion that we had no option but to implement a complete ban on mobility scooters on the Metro system.
Q56 Mr. David Clelland: That raises the question as to whether other forms of transport, buses and trains, are adequately designed to take these motor scooters. Perhaps Mr Scales has a view on that.
Mr Scales: Like Mr Mackay, we are trying to build a single accessible transport network for the whole of our area and we will carry motorised scooters and wheelchairs on Merseyrail Electrics as long as we are told an hour beforehand. Each of the trains is double staffed, there is a guard on the train, and as long as we get one hour and the scooter actually fits the envelope and the weight, which is 300 kilograms, so we can actually secure it when we go on board, we will carry those scooters. We have a difference in that we have a guard who will go through the train from time to time whereas Tyne-and-Wear Metro only has a driver at the front. We have a slightly different system. What we will do, if a scooter user is unsure about the envelope or the weight, is send people out to check the dimensions before they travel. The object of the exercise is to try to get as close to turn-up-and-go as we possibly can.
Q57 Chairman: Are there many occasions where you have had to refuse somebody?
Mr Scales: We had only one unfortunate incident that I can recall on the City Line which is a different railway where they got the scooter on the vehicle and when the customer was trying to get back from Newcastle to St Helens the guard would not load the scooter because it was so heavy. In the event they got it on and off at the other end but that is the only complaint we have had. That is why in Merseyrail Electrics we try to specify an envelope and specify a weight.
Q58 Mr. David Clelland: Should bus operators be making more effort to accommodate mobility scooters?
Mr Scales: I think so, that would be very good. Again, as earlier witnesses have said, there is a huge raft of different sizes. I have seen mobility scooters up to half a tonne in weight and the issue is, once you have got it on the vehicle, securing it properly. If you can secure it properly when it is travelling then you have a chance. Bear in mind that they have batteries on, if these things turn over they are very heavy and there is battery acid if there is an accident. It has to be done with a risk assessment. The way we do it on Merseyside - it is probably the same as other metropolitan areas - is that we have a Dial-a-Ride system or a Ring-and-Ride system where you can get these scooters on a specially adapted vehicle and tie them down so they are safe in transit. That is the key point: to make sure you can get it on the vehicle, travel in safety and then get it off at the other end.
Q87 Mr. David Clelland: In that case, should the Government make the kind of proficiency scheme which is being run by Norfolk Constabulary compulsory in all areas and available?
Mr Mackay: Yes.
Q88 Mr. David Clelland: If so, who should be running the scheme? Should it be the transport authority, the police or the Department for Transport?
Mr Mackay: A scheme which would help us would be a national scheme because then we would all be working to the same standards. On light rail and on heavy rail and so forth, the standards do tend to be national standards, so we would all be on the same page.
Q89 Chairman: Mr Scales, you are nodding.
Mr Scales: It is like the cycling proficiency test, which now the marketeers have got hold of it is called Bikeability but it is really the cycling proficiency test. Something like that nationally would help enormously. It does not really matter who administers it as long as you have that framework and it has to set standards and quality feedback loops then you would be all right.
Q90 Mr. David Clelland: Would it also be helpful to supplement that if the suppliers of these mobility scooters were obliged to ensure that anyone who was sold a mobility scooter had information as to where they could go to get a proficiency test in their own areas?
Mr Scales: Yes.
Q91 Mr. David Clelland: So that would be part of the whole package.
Mr Scales: Yes, very valuable.
Mr Mackay: Yes.
Mr Clinton: Cycle training is a good model, there is a national standard but it is delivered locally. The instructors who deliver it are trained and accredited, so there is confidence in the quality of training which is being provided. I would say that RoSPA would not see this as being compulsory based on the data and evidence we have at the moment.
Q120 Mr. David Clelland: One thing which is coming across to me in our deliberations today is that one big step forward we could take would be to have a national proficiency scheme locally administered so that people who are using these scooters can have some training, perhaps on a voluntary basis, which could include how to access and exit from buses and trams, et cetera. Would you agree that would be a good thing? Should the Government, for instance, be looking to introduce such a national scheme?
Ms Box: We would agree that actually having a national training scheme for mobility scooter users would be very, very helpful indeed and we would certainly support that.
Ms Hunt: We certainly think adequate training should be a requirement for all mobility scooter users.
Q121 Mr. David Clelland: You think it should be compulsory rather than voluntary?
Ms Hunt: Yes, we do.
Q135 Mr. David Clelland: It is almost inevitable though, is it not, with the growth in the use of these scooters that there are going to be more accidents and more incidents with interaction with pedestrians and other traffic? Do you think training should be compulsory for users of motor scooters?
Mr Khan: We asked the question in an open fashion in the consultation and it is deliberately open. One of the things I have recognised, looking into this, is that there is no penalty if it was not. For example, even now you know the rules around the speeds on pavements, the speeds on road, what sort of vehicle you can have and we know you are required to register, for example, a Class III vehicle. What are the sanctions if you do not? The answer is that there is none. I am happy to look at training, how you assess whether people are fit to drive, how you register, but the corollary is what the sanction would be if somebody did not and whether that is proportionate. That is what we are trying to look at. My final point in answer to that question is that we know it has led to an increase in numbers of people having independent living. What we would not want to do is have a disincentive for people to go about in a mobility scooter. The obvious parallel is the discussion we have around cycles and helmets. There is an issue about that.
Q136 Mr. David Clelland: What about a national proficiency scheme which was voluntary but when people bought the scooter they were given information as to where to go? What about something like that?
Mr Khan: There is a Motability scheme which the DWP help finance. That allows you to purchase a scooter via DWP paying over a period of time; three years. One of the conditions, if you accept the Motability scooter scheme, is that you must get insurance, third party insurance, and it has to be registered. The obvious question is that if we have sent the message there for it to be insured and registered, why not for those who are not getting a scooter through the Motability scheme. You make a strong point. We have to be realistic about those who sell on via the internet or second-hand purchasers of these, but I would be in favour personally, without prejudice to the consultation, of some form of registration scheme, whether it is analogous to the blue badge scheme, doing it locally, which we could do quite easily because there is an overlap, or whether it is a DVLA-type scheme which I suspect could be difficult to administer but would be one way of knowing who has the vehicles and you could then chase up who has insurance. You have to follow it through, which is an additional burden on the police and the authorities in pursuing those who do not have insurance and what would the sanction be?
Q137 Mr. David Clelland: If we had a national proficiency scheme, who would decide on what level of training would be given? Who would be training the trainers? Would we need a whole new group of people or do we have existing trainers who can take on this task?
Mr Khan: That is a good question. The other priority is going to be bicycles, the schemes we have with cycling proficiency as well. You just raised several questions: who would train the trainers; what happens if the trainers are not up to scratch; who monitors the trainers; who gives them the kite mark; what happens if you fail and all sorts of things? Some of the horror stories I hear about people turning up, whether Norfolk or elsewhere, who are seriously visually impaired and really should not be using a mobility scooter raises lots of questions. One of the things we do know is that the reputable retailers encourage purchasers to go on a course or give them some guidance. What about those who buy second-hand though or those who buy via the internet? That is one of the reasons why I suspect those who preceded me in this seat may have been less keen to follow up the 2005 recommendations made by the review because some of these questions are challenging. That is why, and I mean this genuinely, the questions in the consultation are open and I was really pleased to see some of your witnesses giving evidence this afternoon because they will form a huge part in what we do in relation to the response to the consultation.
Q138 Mr. David Clelland: You mentioned briefly there the question of eyesight standards. Should there be minimum fitness and eyesight standards and how would that be administered?
Mr Khan: Common sense dictates yes, but how would you police that? Let us go to the basics. What is the purpose of a mobility scooter? There are various types of mobility scooters, whether Class II or Class III. Tim, as a practising doctor, can give you some examples of how it has improved people's quality of life but clearly if you are visually impaired, unlike a pedestrian where you have a white stick or a dog and your ability to impact on others is limited, if you are in charge of a vehicle, whether it is four miles per hour or eight miles per hour, you can have an impact on others as well. Tim has some examples.
Dr Crayford: Certainly in terms of the practicalities of how some forms of medical assessment might reduce the numbers of people who are medically unfit using these vehicles, there are several existing mechanisms that one could use without generating a whole set of new bureaucracy. One of those things might be the blue badge scheme. There is already a medical assessment in the blue badge scheme. One could envisage a situation where applicants were judged, in the opinion of the assessor, as to whether there were any medical reasons why a person might not use a mobility scooter should they wish to do so. I suspect that might well root out some of the more serious cases that we heard about from other witnesses this afternoon.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read here.
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