While councils around Australia have recently backed calls for speed limit reductions for mobility scooter drivers, Monash University has released alarming data revealing the number of deaths caused by scooter accidents.
The latest figures come just months after an elderly man was spotted driving his mobility scooter down the middle of a Melbourne Road with no regard to the car behind or other drivers on the road.
According to the data published exclusively in the Herald Sun, as many as three senior Victorians are hospitalised each week due to either crashing or being hit by a mobility scooter. More than 1,000 over-50s in the state have been rushed to the emergency department for their scooter-related injuries over the past 10 years. In more than 50 per cent of cases, the injuries sustained were so severe that patients required further hospital stays or additional treatment.
Worryingly, there have been 129 mobility scooter deaths in Australia since the year 2000 and three deaths caused by pedestrians
In addition to calls from councils around Australia, the Senate is currently reviewing laws about the use of scooters. Sadly, older members of the community are more prone to accidents because of their dependence on scooters.
“It’s older people who generally use mobility scooters and they’re using them because they need some help to be independently mobile,” researcher Dr Joan Ozanne-Smith told Starts at 60. “A lot of the older people, of course, are frail or have some sort of disability that’s why they require the scooter.”
While the stats from Victoria alone are shocking, it’s a similar case around the country, something Ozanne-Smith described as “concerning”.
“There are at least 350 hospital admissions around Australia for motorised mobility scooter riders. There are any number of reasons why they’re injured,” she said.
She also noted the design of many motorised scooters and the fact they’re not stable is a leading cause of injury.
“A number of mobility scooters are not very stable, so there are some design issues,” she said. “They will tip over fairly readily if you enter a curb at the wrong angle or the slope down to the curb to cross the road. They’re quite unstable and the centre of gravity is high with a rider on top.”
Unlike other transportation vehicles, there aren’t clearly defined rules when it comes to safely driving a mobility scooter, which can cause further confusion and possible injury.
“There’s no regular assessments for peoples’ capacity to ride a scooter safely. Some people have some sort of assessment by a physiotherapist and others don’t,” Ozanne-Smith said. “Training is variable too. Some retailers provide some training and some don’t. People buy them on eBay or pass them down, so all of those things are unregulated and patchy at the moment.”
In addition, helmets aren’t required when driving a scooter, resulting in many people suffering head injuries when they are involved in an accident.
“Amongst the deaths, about 40 per cent are due to head injuries,” Ozanne-Smith said. “Another 15 per cent are multiple injuries that quite likely include head injuries. That’s why I suggested helmets could be protective, as they are for bike riders.”
Researchers believe more studies need to be done to understand how people get into difficulties with scooters and whether other protective measures or equipment would prevent accidents.
“It will be important to see the Senate enquiry report, which should be out on September 20,” Ozanne-Smith said. “There may be some recommendations there that I’m not aware of at this stage. I think watch this space.”