Edith Horrocks is 93 and has just given up her car.
“I passed my driving test in 1950,” says Edith of Fleetwood. “I am not prepared to take another to drive this.”
A small but nimble mobility scooter has become her sole means of independent travel.
“I can’t get into my car any more. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve been alone since I was 28 and lost my RAF sweetheart. I’ve always valued my freedom, never having to rely on other people.”
Edith objects to calls for compulsory insurance and proficiency testing on mobility scooter users.
“I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous – do they make cyclists do the same? It would put many off using scooters – they would be stuck at home instead.”
Blackpool councillor Tony Williams, leader of the council’s Conservative group, is urging the Minister of Transport to make insurance, safety checks and some test of driving ability compulsory.
The call is supported by Blackpool disability consultant Stephen Brookes.
Coun Williams adds: “Mobility scooters are a lifeline for those with genuine mobility problems. However anyone can purchase one as a cheap form of transport. I’ve heard of kids in universities buying them. You can reprogramme them to reach 20mph or customise them to look more like drag racers.
“People can lose their licence for drunk driving in the morning and go out and buy a scooter in the afternoon.
“There are more than 300,000 of these vehicles in use in the UK and no legal obligation for owners to purchase insurance, tax or have them MOT’d.
“You don’t need a licence to drive them nor is training to use them compulsory. However, few are aware of the financial risks if they have an accident involving a pedestrian or another vehicle.
“One lady in the North East faced losing her house after a pedestrian she hit sued her for damages. In Nottingham a lady who broke her hip in an accident with a scooter said she would have been better protected by the law had she been hit by a car.
“It’s a licence for the no win, no fee lawyers to start cashing in.
“I think dealers should not hand out keys until proof of insurance is presented.”
Dawn Hudson, director of A1 Mobility, Buchanan Street, Blackpool, agrees. “All drivers should be insured, absolutely. It’s £75, a small price to pay for peace of mind and protect for yourself and others. We had one customer drive through our window and then ask for insurance! Another told us she was registered blind. We’ve even had people banned for drink drive offences call and ask about scooters. We won’t sell them one – but someone will.
“We check eyesight, take them out on a test drive, and make sure we find the right scooter for their needs, whether it’s 4mph pavement or 8mph road legal scooters. We ask if they’re comfortable, how will they transport it, do they need a scooter or a powered chair? We also do home visits. Our problem is they can buy online cheaper but with no questions asked or advice given or back up. We call them box shifters in the trade. It’s not about quality service or care.”
Liability insurance is available at around £75 a year. The last few years have seen a sharp rise in the number of mobility scooters on pavements and in shopping centres. It’s set to increase with the ageing population.
Coun Williams is also calling for eligibility assessment. “Too many use them as a cheap alternative to other transport. In my own ward I know of a resident who uses a scooter daily yet when it broke down was able to walk the two mile round trip to the local shops.”
He and fellow ward councillor Paul Galley plan a mobility scooter safety day. Owners will get a free vehicle safety check, advice on correct use, insurance and pedestrian considerations, along with practical instruction and emergency advice.
Support for the campaign comes from Blackpool visitor Diane Jones, 50, who concludes: “I don’t think most accidents are down to drivers, they are down to people not noticing us. I constantly have to ask people to give way. I’ve hit a couple myself – when they have stepped back or just barged into me. But I support a test and insurance for the bigger scooters. Mine only does four miles an hour. It’s not enough to do much harm. But some scooters are much bigger and faster and potentially dangerous.”
The Department of Transport estimates there are 330,000 mobility scooters in use in the UK, and that 95 per cent of all accidents and injuries involving mobility scooters are the fault of the driver.
Transport minister Norman Baker has commissioned a report in the use of mobility scooters among younger generations. The DVLA strongly advises mobility scooter owners to take out insurance cover. Almost 70 per cent of respondents to a survey agreed scooter riders should be subject to the same rules as other motorists.