When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted to have a motor scooter. Unfortunately, having a doctor for a father meant that I was presented not only with a flat “no”, but also with too many gory details of how easily one could be injured or worse by riding an on-road vehicle with so little protection.

So it’s not surprising that long before I reached my now definitively old age of 74, I had resolved that if the time should come when my mobility is affected, I would definitely get its slower and presumably safer cousin, a mobility scooter. And I certainly haven’t changed my mind as the possibility of such a time comes ever nearer.

The ageing population, the number of people using mobility scooters is going to explode

It turns out, however, that there are also some issues surrounding the use of this vehicle, and these are increasingly being debated in the media. This is especially the case in light of the prediction that was noted in a 2012 ABC Illawarra NSW radio feature, that with “the baby boomer generation [getting] older, the number of people using mobility scooters is going to explode.”

The problem with that, as pointed out in the same year by The Sydney Morning Herald, is that they are something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the benefits of this mode of transport are clear: “from quick trips to the shops to longer commutes for medical appointments, motorised scooters have become an increasingly popular way for the elderly to stay mobile.” At the same time, on the other hand, “health experts warn they can also be deadly. The latest research reveals as many as 700 people are hospitalised each year in Australia after accidents on motorised buggies and at least 62 people have been killed in the past 10 years as a result of riding a mobility scooter….. The most likely location for an injury was on the road, followed by the home… The simple act of falling off a scooter at home means we are seeing a lot of injuries, especially to the lower limb.”

Safe driving tips for those travelling on a scooter

Approaches to enhancing their safety and targeting users and/or their fellow travellers on the roads and footpaths are therefore – intermittently – being developed and publicised. A 2015 ABCNews feature reported on the launch of a safety campaign – by insurer Blue Badge – “aimed at motorists in an effort to keep scooter users safer.” And as far back as 2010, The Herald Sun noted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s suggestions for a number of safe driving tips, including travelling at the right speed (not more than 10 kms/hr), only crossing at pedestrian crossings, wearing a safety helmet, keeping the load down (not too many parcels, and no passengers), and being highly visible via means such as attaching a high reflective flag to the scooter and wearing bright clothes.

Amongst the ACCC’s other recommendations were that “scooter owners get training before setting wheels on footpaths, shopping centres and parks, [and] use roads only as a last resort;…. [and that] older people have a physical checkup before buying a mobility scooter to ensure they have the strength, vision, hearing, concentration, judgement and responsiveness to confidently drive a mobility scooter in a variety of conditions.” Its full list of guidelines can be seen on the following site.

These cautionary points are important considerations for all potential users who want to make the positive step of combining enhanced mobility with safety. However, up to the time of her death in 2011 at the age of 75, the colourful “transgender pioneer” Carmen Rupe added a bright note to the controversy by providing Sydneysiders with the rare sight of the mobility scooter as a vehicle for self-expression. A farewell feature about her in The Sydney Morning Herald described her decorative approach to making her public appearances on her scooter:
“Whether it was 9am or 9pm, Carmen Rupe knew only too well that a lady must always look her best. Snake charmer, belly dancer, courtesan, madam, nurse and Sydney star, “Kiwi Carmen” always cut a glamorous figure, even late in life when she left her tiny Surry Hills flat aboard her motorised scooter dripping in costume jewellery with an assortment of oversized flowers adorning her even more oversized hair.”

As such a vision-splendid that was completely in line with the ACCC’s suggestion on bright clothes, she could leave many of us hoping that other easy gliders out there might be inspired by her sense of fun, while exercising all due care for their safety and the safety of those with whom they share the pathways and roads. I for one, if it ever comes to the time when I can justify having a mobility scooter, will be doing a safe driving course first.

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