Motorised mobility devices and the issue of safety
The inquiry's terms of reference required that the committee investigate
the safety of motorised mobility devices. Specifically, the number of deaths
and injuries attributed to accidents involving mobility scooters in Australia (since
their introduction). The committee was also asked to investigate the causes of
This chapter provides an overview of the issues raised by submitters and
evidence provided by stakeholders regarding the causes of accidents, deaths and
injury that are attributed to mobility devices.
The chapter also provides an overview of the data that is currently available,
and the studies that have been undertaken in relation to accidents involving
mobility devices – including mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs.
As discussed in the previous chapter, to describe the use of terminology
in relation to mobility devices as 'complex' would be an understatement. Submitters
to the inquiry used a range of terms when referring to mobility devices,
including 'motorised mobility devices', 'motorised scooters', 'buggies',
'gophers', 'scooters', 'motorised wheelchairs', 'motor chairs' or 'power
To provide a level of clarity and consistency, the general term
'motorised mobility device' is used where relevant, and the terms 'mobility
scooter' and 'motorised wheelchair' are used where appropriate – in accordance
with the diagram on page 6. The committee notes, however, that a number of the
submitters who raised concerns about the safety of mobility devices, described
them as 'mobility scooters' rather than 'motorised wheelchairs'.
Accidents involving mobility devices
The committee received a number of submissions which raised concerns
about the use of mobility devices and questioned their safety.
Ms Jacqueline Walling for example, described how her elderly father had
– on two separate occasions – been hit from behind while walking on the
footpath by "mobility scooters driven by people who haven't taken enough
Ms Walling advised that on the first occasion her father had received a skin
tear on his leg which did not heal well. The injury, because of his age, has
become a recurrent problem. On the second occasion, her father suffered a
broken ankle. Ms Walling told the committee that the impact of these types of
accidents goes beyond the initial pain and suffering of the individual:
In my father's case he was unable to get up the stairs and my
parents' only living room became his sick room for weeks which was highly
inconvenient. My parents don't drive so transport was required to many hospital
appointments – they spent a lot of time waiting around and then there were
medical costs – not all covered by the public purse. And, of course the whole
family was terrified that (as often happens with the elderly) the injuries
caused by his being struck by the mobility scooter would start a downward
Mr Frederick Charles described for the committee a 2017 accident in
which his wife was hit from behind by a mobility scooter and knocked to the
ground. Mr Charles noted that while his wife was not seriously hurt, she had
received severe bruising and grazing to her legs and head. He argued, however,
that the situation could have been much worse:
...when my wife was hit she landed on grass beside a concrete
path, had she hit the concrete the potential was there for a fatality.
Mr Patrick Whitton, the owner of a family business in NSW, told the
committee that his mother (employed by the family business) was "the
victim of a severe collision with a mobility scooter within a shopping
centre" that resulted in her sustaining a significant fracture to the
It was submitted that the collision had come about as a direct result of
the uncontrolled speed of the mobility scooter in the shopping centre. Mr
Whitton argued that due to the lack of regulation in NSW, the operator of the
mobility scooter was uninsured, and the shopping centre had no duty of care to
safeguard pedestrians against mobility scooters whilst on their premises.
Mr Whitton advised that, as a direct result of the accident, his mother:
has had surgery to have a titanium rod and screws inserted in her
leg and hip (and has been advised by her surgeon that her prospects for a full
recovery are limited);
is unable to walk or stand properly;
is unable to work;
is required to undergo a life-long pain management program;
has borne significant medical costs; and
has been forced to sell her property.
Mr Whitton expressed frustration about the situation his mother now
finds herself in, noting that she is unlikely to ever fully recover from the
collision mentally, or physically. Mr Whitton added that as no one is 'liable'
under the current circumstances, the financial impact of the accident has also
Submitter Dr Colin Sheppard called for an examination of the expanding
use of mobility scooters and argued that, by definition, the users of mobility
scooters frequently suffer from a combination of mental, physical and visual
disabilities. Dr Sheppard submitted that:
These vehicles with a weight of over 200 kg (including
driver) can be seen driven erratically or at excessive speeds on footpaths,
roads, in shopping centres and through public parks. The risk of death or
severe injury to pedestrians of all types, but particularly children, dogs and
the elderly are obvious. Anyone who has been confronted by one of these
monstrosities hurtling around a blind corner on a footpath in a public park
will know what I mean.
Dr Sheppard argued that given the increasing prevalence of mobility
scooters, there is an urgent need for their regulation, and suggested that, at
the very least:
users of mobility scooters should be assessed in relation to their
ability to operate the device;
motor governors should be fitted to mobility scooters to prevent them
travelling at more than a safe walking speed – about 5 km/h;
mobility scooters should be fitted with a warning device such as
a horn or a bell;
mobility scooters should be registered and fitted with licence
plates (so that dangerous users can be identified and held responsible for
damage to property or persons);
there should be some form of mandatory insurance for mobility
there may be a need to introduce penalties for people who use a
mobility scooter while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Dr Sheppard's submission reflected the views of a number of other submitters
who raised issues such as the lack of a medical assessment for users of
mobility scooters, the speed of mobility scooters, the need for licencing,
registration and insurance and the problems associated with operating a vehicle
while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Research undertaken in relation to motorised mobility devices
The evidence of the ACCC provided valuable background information for
the committee's inquiry. The ACCC, which has been involved in a variety of
projects relating to the use and safety of motorised mobility devices,
furnished relevant historical information and provided context in relation to
research that has been undertaken by Australian institutions over recent years.
In addition, several academic institutions responded to the committee's
request for submissions. These institutions, which have undertaken research in
relation to the use of motorised mobility devices in recent years, include:
the Monash University Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM);
the University of the Sunshine Coast Adolescent Risk Research
Unit (ARRU); and
CQUniversity Australia, School of Medical, Health and Applied
The submissions provided by these academic institutions included the
most current data and expert analysis of injury data (involving motorised
mobility devices) which had been taken from a variety of sources.
Australian Competition and Consumer
The ACCC is Australia's primary competition and consumer protection
agency. The ACCC is responsible for administering and enforcing the Competition
and Consumer Act 2010, which includes the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). In
the majority of situations, motorised mobility devices deemed to be for
personal use would be considered 'consumer goods', which means that the
consumer guarantees and recall provisions of the ACL apply. The ACCC also plays
a role in ensuring products are marketed in a way that is truthful, and
encourages the supply of safe consumer products in Australia.
As part of its responsibilities, the ACCC may also undertake research or
gain a better understanding of the nature of product safety
determine whether it should intervene in the market; or
determine whether it should introduce mandatory safety standards
or bans under the ACL.
The ACCC has undertaken a variety of work in relation to the safety of
motorised mobility devices. From 2009–2013, the ACCC was the lead agency for a
reference group of interested parties which was established to identify issues,
and take action to address safety concerns, associated with motorised mobility
devices. The parties involved in the reference group included injury research
organisations, business representatives, representative groups for older
consumers as well as federal, state and territory government agencies.
The ACCC's reference group included three working parties:
the People and Users Working Party – which worked to
develop and conduct Australia's first national survey in relation to motorised
the Regulators Working Party – which reviewed laws
relating to motorised mobility devices and identified overlaps, inconsistencies
and conflicts; and
the Equipment Working Party – which included
representatives from industry, and people with technical and standards
Using agreed requirements provided by the Regulators Working Party, the
ACCC also surveyed the brands and models of motorised mobility devices
available in the Australian marketplace.
It was noted that the results from the ACCC's survey were provided to Austroads
to inform its current project, and that the ACCC's reference group was
disbanded in March 2013 (following the commencement of an Austroads project to
develop relevant mandatory requirements under the ARRs).
Over recent years, the ACCC has also initiated research in relation to
user behaviour, undertaken an analysis of injury data and developed a variety
of educational and guidance material.
Study of injury data by Monash
In its role as a consumer product safety regulator, the ACCC commissioned
Monash University to undertake a targeted study of injury data to gain a better
understanding of the risks and harms associated with motorised mobility
The study, undertaken by the Monash University DFM, involved
consultation with a range of stakeholders, including:
researchers of motorised mobility devices;
road safety and transport experts;
health and ageing professionals and rehabilitation providers;
suppliers of motorised mobility devices; and
independent living group members.
The study, which was published in March 2011, found:
442 hospitalisations related to motorised mobility device fall
injuries, during the two years between July 2006 and June 2008 (with
suggestions that this number would be larger if collision data was included); and
that the increasing use of motorised mobility devices may see
hospitalisations related to motorised mobility devices grow by approximately
250 per cent over the next decade (in Victoria alone).
The 2011 study also found that from July 2000 to August 2010, there were
62 identified fatalities related to motorised mobility scooters (and another 14
cases were under investigation). The largest proportion of deaths occurred in
those aged 80 years and over, and were the result of individuals being struck
by a motor vehicle. In contrast, the largest proportion of deaths in those younger
than 80 years were as a result of falls.
Importantly, a number of the stakeholders consulted as part of the study
reported that there was confusion across all levels of the community about the
appropriate use of motorised mobility devices. The study found strong support
for a standardised set of regulations which would provide clear and consistent
operating rules, and help reduce confusion and conflict between users of
motorised mobility devices and other community members.
Between February and June 2012, the ACCC, the NRMA, CHOICE, EnableNSW,
Flinders University and a number of other stakeholders collaborated on
Australia's first national survey of motorised mobility device users.
The survey included a randomly selected sample of 2406 people aged over
(who were asked to complete a short version of the survey) and 515 current
users of mobility scooters who volunteered to complete an extended survey.
The purpose of the survey was to further develop the work undertaken by
DFM in relation to injury data and provide a clearer understanding of the
demographics of motorised mobility device users, and patterns of use across the
The survey found that over 51 per cent of motorised mobility device
users were aged 60 years or less which, it was noted, is inconsistent with the
idea of users being older Australians, aged 60 years or over. The survey also
revealed that only a small number of users actually received safety training or
advice from mobility specialists and that:
just over half (51 per cent) of mobility scooter users sought
advice or assessment from mobility specialists when purchasing a scooter;
only 25 per cent had safety training or tuition on their current
the key providers of safety training and tuition included
occupational therapists or other health professionals, or retailers (sales
persons and suppliers).
Monash University Department of
The Monash University DFM told the committee that "there are few
reports in Australia or elsewhere on deaths and injuries associated with
motorised mobility scooters".
The DFM also acknowledged the difficulty of sourcing accurate data in relation
to deaths and injuries (attributed to motorised mobility devices) and noted
that its submission was based on the limited data that is currently available in
relation to motorised mobility device-related
Specifically, the Monash DFM submission was based on:
data from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS);
previous research conducted by the Monash University DFM; and
a collaborative research proposal submitted to the NHMRC by the
University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2018.
It was noted that given the various complexities involved in obtaining
data on MMS-related deaths and injuries – including substantial costs and
delays – Monash researchers had combined data from a range of time periods to
compile the MMS-rider death and serious injury data estimates. The data
estimates focused on the 60 years and above age group which, it was argued,
encompasses the greatest proportion of deaths and injuries and appears to
largely represent frail elderly MMS-users.
In summarising the DFM's submission, Professor Joan Ozanne-Smith, Head
of Injury Prevention, told the committee that there had been:
132 deaths between 2000 and 2017, which included only three
pedestrians or just over two per cent. Of the 129 scooter users who died, more
than 90 per cent were aged 60 years or over. In addition, we estimate – based
on old data; 2006 to 2009 data – that at least 350 older scooter users are
admitted to hospital for injuries – serious injuries – each year and there are
likely considerably higher incidents in recent years due to the increasing
number of motorised scooters.
The medical cause of death was available only for the period
2000 to 2011. Almost 40 per cent of the deaths were due to head injury and
another 15 per cent due to multiple injuries, which might have included head
injuries. Of the 77 deaths in that period, 39 were due to being struck by a
motor vehicle and 29 fell from a motorised scooter. Most deaths were of older
DFM questioned the results of the ACCC's national survey regarding the
distribution of scooter users by age group, which found that 51 per cent of
users were aged less than 60 years and noted that the ACCC's survey was
"based on very limited data". At the same time, however, it argued
that "in any case, older persons appear to be the most vulnerable users
according to the fatal injury data".
CQUniversity Australia indicated that in 2016, its research team had
surveyed 67 mobility device users from Victoria and Queensland to gain an
understanding of how people use public transport and to determine whether
public transport has an influence on their choice of mobility device. The
survey found that:
42 per cent of respondents used two or more seated mobility
the most important features when choosing a mobility aid were
reliability, turning ability and size; and
52 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that public transport
is generally accessible.
Researchers also concluded that motorised mobility device users, vendors
and health professionals needed to work together to identify mobility devices
that best fulfilled users' needs, and were reliable and safe.
Following on from the 2016 study, CQUniversity Australia has been
working with Public Transport Victoria to investigate the suitability of
motorised mobility devices to access, move within and egress public transport –
specifically buses. This latest research is being undertaken in direct response
to the proposed introduction of Technical Specification DR SA TS 3695.3:2017
CP Requirements for designation of powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters
for public transport and/or road-related area use.
NSW Parliament Inquiry
The committee notes that the increasing use of non-registered vehicles
such as electric bicycles, segways, quad bikes and motorised mobility devices
prompted a recent inquiry in the Parliament of New South Wales.
On 14 November 2012, the NSW Standing Committee on Road Safety
(Staysafe) resolved to undertake an inquiry into the increasing use of
non-registered motor vehicles
on public roads, footpaths and public land and their impact on road safety. The
Staysafe Committee's inquiry focused on:
the current status of these vehicles under the road rules;
road safety problems associated with their use;
data collection on injury and death rates; and
vehicle standards (including design, engine capacity, mass and
In undertaking its inquiry, the Staysafe Committee also assessed the
availability of road safety education, the need for skills and competency
training for vehicle users, and the insurance implications of injuries and
deaths related to their vehicle use.
The Staysafe Committee's report was tabled in the NSW Parliament in
March 2014. The report acknowledged that the trend toward alternative modes of
transport has obvious benefits "for groups in the community who for
reasons of age or infirmity would otherwise be house bound". The report
also acknowledged that the use of alternative forms of transport:
...also presents a challenge for road safety practitioners and
transport planners, who voice concerns about the potential conflicts and risks
these vehicles may pose for riders and other road users.
The Staysafe Committee's full report – which can be found on the NSW
– contains a number of findings which are of particular relevance to the
committee's current inquiry into motorised mobility devices. These findings are
A consistent theme running through the inquiry was the lack of data
concerning the use of non-registered motorised vehicles and their involvement
in accidents. The report noted that the problems associated with lack of data
are compounded by the current vehicle coding system, which does not allow
precise differentiation between vehicle classes. Under the current system, some
registered vehicles generally used on public roads (such as mopeds) are
included with non-registered vehicles (including electric bicycles and quad
bikes). It was also noted that the classification of mobility scooter users as pedestrians
creates another layer of confusion.
The Staysafe Committee recommended that an interagency working group
investigate ways to improve data collection and research on injuries and deaths
caused by non-registered motorised vehicles, as well as relevant risk factors.
The report noted that inadequately maintained footpaths and ramps can
create safety hazards, particularly for mobility scooter users. These problems
often leave users with poor options for route choice, including being forced on
to roads, gutters and nature strips. The Staysafe Committee recommended that
local and state governments take account of powered mobility device safety when
designing and upgrading public infrastructure.
Manufacturers and distributors
The report considered the role manufacturers can play in vehicle design
and safety improvements. A range of views were summarised, including the
suggestion that manufacturers should provide safety information to consumers,
or that they should be required to fit improved safety equipment to devices.
Accreditation of suppliers was also supported by some participants. The report
included a recommendation that the NSW Government examine the viability of
establishing an accreditation system for mobility device retailers to ensure
that consumers are provided with material containing safety warnings and user
information as part of the sale process.
It was noted that a proposal to establish a registration scheme was
presented as a potential solution to some of the issues identified throughout
the inquiry. In support of this proposition, the case was made that such a
scheme would improve safety, enable assessment of the competency of vehicle
operators, improve data collection on vehicle use and prevent illegal use of
such vehicles. On the other hand, it was also claimed that registration was not
required; that it would be costly, as well as difficult to implement and
As part of its recommendations, the Staysafe Committee recommended that
the NSW Government investigate the feasibility of imposing a requirement for
mobility scooters to be fitted with compliance plates or road worthiness
certificates, prior to their sale.
The report indicated that while there was some support for mandatory
insurance, other evidence suggested that it should not be made mandatory until
more evidence was gathered to support the need for such a scheme. The Staysafe
Committee made two recommendations in relation to vehicle insurance:
that Transport for NSW and the Motor Accidents Authority
investigate the insurance liability and insurance coverage options for mobility
that Transport for NSW undertake a public education campaign to
inform the community of the risks of injury associated with the use of
non-registered motorised vehicles and of the need for appropriate insurance to
cover potential liability.
Road safety education
The report noted that two key strategies to improve road safety
awareness were education and training, and the targeted assessment of users'
skills and competency to operate their vehicles. The Staysafe Committee made a
number of recommendations in relation to road safety education, including:
that Transport for NSW examine the effectiveness of the scooter
education and training pilot implemented in British Columbia, with a view to
improving similar training programs delivered in NSW;
that Transport for NSW and WorkCover NSW design specific road
safety campaigns to increase community awareness of the safety risk of
different classes of non-registered motorised vehicles and the importance of
skills and competency based training; and
that Transport for NSW updates relevant road safety publications,
such as 'A Guide to using motorised wheelchairs', to make clear that advice on
road rules and road safety also applies to mobility scooters.
The Staysafe Committee acknowledged that at the time its report was
being prepared, Austroads was involved in a number of projects in relation to
motorised mobility devices. The Staysafe Committee indicated that it was
supportive of the projects being undertaken by Austroads – particularly its
work toward harmonising separate state and territory policies in relation to
motorised mobility devices.
The NSW Government Response to the report, which was tabled in September
2014, indicated its support for a number of the recommendations, including:
improved data collection and research on injuries and deaths
caused by non-registered motor vehicles, as well as relevant risk factors;
improved data collection and improvements to coding for
non-registered motorised vehicles involved in road accidents;
work to improve the coding of 'Admitted Patient Data' to
differentiate between vehicle types;
the work being undertaken by Austroads (and other Australian
jurisdictions) toward standard Australian Design Rule classifications for
non-registered motor vehicles; and
a public education campaign to inform the community of the risks
of injury associated with the use of non-registered motorised vehicles and of
the need for appropriate insurance to cover potential liability.
The NSW Government provided in-principle support for a number of the
report's recommendations, including:
an investigation of the feasibility of imposing a requirement for
mobility scooters to be fitted with compliance plates or road worthiness
certificates, prior to their sale;
an investigation of the insurance liability and insurance coverage
options for mobility devices (to be undertaken by Transport for NSW and the
Motor Accidents Authority;
a Transport for NSW examination of the scooter education and
training pilot program implemented in British Columbia, with a view to
improving similar training programs delivered in NSW; and
local and state governments taking account of powered mobility
device safety when designing or upgrading public infrastructure.
Causes of accidents and injury
The ACCC's research indicated that the majority of serious injuries and
deaths (in relation to mobility devices) were associated with collisions with
cars, trucks or trains rather than any specific feature of the devices
themselves. Research also determined that a large proportion of deaths occurred
when users of motorised mobility devices were crossing a road, attempting to
alight from the scooter or when entering or approaching intersections. The ACCC
argued that its research had demonstrated that interventions available under
consumer law would not solve the key issues relating to user behaviour.
The ACCC submitted that, as a result of its earlier work, in 2013
Austroads commenced work toward the development of a national framework to
improve the safety of motorised mobility devices. The ACCC noted that the
Austroads project, which is ongoing, is being led by the Queensland Department
of Transport and Main Roads, and aims to introduce mandatory construction and
labelling requirements for motorised mobility devices, that will be included in
the ARRs. The project being undertaken by Austroads will be described further,
later in this chapter.
Issues raised by stakeholders
The balance between safety and
The Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA) argued that before any
changes were made to policies and regulations as they relate to mobility
scooters, consideration needed to be given to the broader policy context –
rather than simply safety regulations within the status quo. COTA argued that:
This should include ensuring that we develop age-friendly
cities and develop policies that enhance social inclusion and healthy ageing –
that is to say: we urge the committee to ensure its recommendations do not
inadvertently inhibit older Australians from moving about freely, including
through the use of mobility scooters when they cannot do so without assistance.
A number of submitters stressed the positive impacts that mobility
scooters and motorised wheelchairs can have on people's lives. It was argued
that these devices can provide people with independence and allow them freedom
of movement to do their own shopping, undertake recreational activities, attend
sporting and cultural events, visit family and friends, attend appointments as
well as participate in the workforce.
Stakeholders argued that participation in the community is critical to a
person's quality of life and mental health. Mr Peter Mitchell, for example,
told the committee that he is currently restricted to walking about twenty or
thirty metres at a time, so his scooter provides a "lifeline to a normal
existence, allowing me to shop, socialise, and attend functions, sporting
Miss Stacey Christie told the committee that the majority of people who
use motorised wheelchairs typically spend the majority of their lives in their
wheelchair, and argued that:
My motorised wheelchair is essentially my legs. Without my
wheelchair I would not be able to leave my house or even move around my
house. I wouldn't be able to work and have a fulltime job or access my
A large number of stakeholders raised 'speed' as an issue that required
COTA told the committee that there was a lack of clarity around the
issue of speed limits:
Speed is a crucial consideration in the safe use of mobility
scooters, both for the user and other pedestrians. A 'fast walk' speed limit of
8-10 kph offers a reasonable guide, but it is unclear to COTA whether this is
the limit required and enforced in all jurisdictions. The prevalence of
mobility scooters in the community able to exceed a limit of 10 kph is also
A number of submitters raised concerns about the safety of current speed
limits and pointed to the dangers of increasing the permitted speed limits.
Ms Jacqueline Stalling, for example, argued that travelling at walking
pace allows the user of a motorised mobility device more time to understand
what is happening around them, and allows other footpath users more time to
take evasive action, should it be required. Ms Stalling also suggested that
halving the speed limit would "reduce the severity of injuries if the
scooter hits a person".
A large number of submitters raised strong objections to the
introduction of any regulations which would decrease the permitted maximum
speed from 10 km/h.
The Youth Disability Advocacy Network told the committee that it had concerns
about the safety of reducing the maximum allowable speed, and argued that:
There are many situations where a person has to run quickly
to escape danger, just as there are many situations where a powered wheelchair
user has to drive quickly to escape danger. Limiting the speed means limiting
users' safety, users' ability to cross roads quickly and safely, and the
freedom to go at the same speed as other pedestrians.
There was, however significant consensus for maintaining a 5 km/h
minimum speed and a 10 km/h maximum speed.
Mr Ray Jordan advised that the safe speed for a motorised mobility device will
vary depending on the specific situation, but noted that "there must be a
balance between safety and how long it takes to get somewhere". He argued
Many of us do not have the luxury of being able to jump in a
car and drive to the office, train station, local café or the shopping mall. A
mobility scooter or a wheelchair is all we have unless the distance is such
that a taxi becomes a viable option. I think the Australian Standard AS3695.3
has the balance about right at 10km/h.
The committee suggests that this evidence should be taken into
consideration by Austroads as part of its future deliberations.
While the issue of weight was raised during the inquiry, stakeholders
did not identify it as a key issue of concern.
The Darebin Disability Advisory Committee observed that the maximum
unladen mass of an average motorised wheelchair generally exceeds 110 kg, and
that the road rules, standards and guidelines that impose a 110 kg limit have
not kept up with changes to wheelchair weights over the years. It was suggested
that if the "federal government does indeed create regulations that enshrine
the 110 kg weight limit, most power wheelchairs would become essentially
The NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) noted that the current inquiry
represents an opportunity for stakeholders to "explore broader change to
improve the lives of people with mobility impairments".
It was also suggested that any proposal to restrict the speed and weight of
motorised mobility devices would undermine choice and control for many users,
and effectively limit their freedom of mobility.
NCOSS argued that Australia already has tight controls on motorised
mobility devices, and pointed to the European standards, which have been
adopted by most international manufacturers, and which have:
no weight restrictions on motorised mobility devices; and
speed limits dependant on location: typically 12 km per hour with
a slow switch to 6 km per hour for high pedestrian traffic areas.
NCOSS also argued that imposing additional regulations – including speed
and weight restrictions – would place Australia out of step with international
standards, drive up costs for Australian users, and decrease their choice and
Drugs and alcohol
A small number of submitters raised serious concerns about mobility
scooter users affected by drugs or alcohol when travelling on roads or
road-related areas such as footpaths. Anecdotal evidence suggested that some
users of mobility devices deliberately use a scooter to travel to hotels or
registered clubs to drink alcohol and travel home on a footpath under the
belief that they will not be stopped or breathalysed by police.
Collection of data
Initial searches conducted at the commencement of the inquiry revealed
that information and research about the use of mobility devices – including
mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs – is difficult to find. There is a
lack of available, up-to-date, factual information about the number of mobility
devices in Australia, the different ways these devices are used – both inside
and outside the home – their safety, and their compatibility with urban
In responding to the committee's request for submissions, a number of
individuals and various organisations pointed to the fact that there is a
limited amount of data available in relation to motorised mobility devices –
including mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs. The Combined Pensioners
and Superannuants Association (CPSA) for example, cited a 2016 review of
"the extant empirical research regarding mobility scooters" which had
identified that there were as few as 28 studies worldwide.
Austroads observed that the registration scheme used by the Queensland
Government provides some insight into the prevalence and growth of motorised
mobility devices in Australia over recent years. Austroads pointed to figures
which show that in 2002, there were a total of 5894 motorised mobility devices
registered in Queensland. Since then, there has been a steady annual growth in
registrations, and by 2017, the figure had increased to 31 294.
Given that Queensland represents approximately 20 per cent of
Australia's total population, Austroads speculated that there are currently
more than 156 000 motorised mobility devices in use nationally. Austroads
argued that Australia's ageing population, and the roll-out of the NDIS means
there is likely to be a significant increase in this number over the coming
Austroads noted, however, that current accident rates for motorised mobility
devices are still not well documented in Australia, and the records kept by
emergency services and hospitals may not capture the details of accidents or
incidents (or the causes of accidents) accurately.
The ACCC acknowledged that although incidents (including accidents involving
motorised mobility devices and pedestrians) are not regulated by the ACCC, it
does receive a small number of reports on these types of incidents. The ACCC
submitted that since 2010, it has received 27 reports, from various sources,
including mandatory reports from suppliers, and consumer complaints. The
majority of these reports relate to incidents involving motorised mobility
devices and collisions with motor vehicles. Other reports describe incidents
where the rider has fallen from their mobility device, for example, when
leaning to pick up an item.
Based on the small number of reports it had received, the ACCC submitted
that there was no obvious pattern which would indicate that a particular type
of device or brand was more susceptible to performance and/or safety issues.
The ACCC argued that this is also evidenced in the small number of
voluntary recalls notified by suppliers of motorised mobility devices. The ACCC
advised that since 2002, suppliers have notified only five voluntary recalls of
motorised mobility devices:
Monarch Buzz Mobility Scooter (2014) – the rear and front sections
could separate if the scooter was driven over a gutter kerb, an obstacle
greater than the scooter's clearance, or dropped from a height.
Breeze C Mobility Scooter (2013) – an internal electric contact
could become disconnected due to extensive wear.
Mini Crosser Scooters (2009) – the controller could require
adjustment of its settings in order to avoid a potential fire hazard.
Victory Scooters (2004) – there was a remote potential for the
electronic power harness connection to short-circuit causing the scooter to
Voyager, Columbus and Traveller 3 and 4 Wheeled Mobility Scooters
(2002) – a limited number of these scooters could experience premature failure
of the drive mechanism.
In 2006, the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU), a project of the
Monash University Accident Research Centre, reported on research it conducted
in relation to the use of motorised mobility scooters. The report noted that
motorised mobility scooters were "growing in popularity in Australia as
older and disabled people strive to maintain active, independent
The VISU explained that as a result of the increased popularity of
motorised mobility devices, it had received numerous requests for data on
injuries related to motorised mobility scooters. It was also noted that:
The difficulties we faced identifying these injury cases on fatality
and hospital injury surveillance databases provide a good illustration of the
shortcoming of available hospital-based injury datasets for the identification
of emerging injury issues relating to newer consumer products.
The VISU also indicated that the only comprehensive source of data on
the number of motorised mobility scooters in use in Victoria was that of the
1998 and 2003 ABS Survey of Disability Ageing and Carers. While each of the
surveys reported data (regarding scooter use by people with a disability)
differently, researchers were able to use the data to conclude that there had
been a three-fold increase in the use of mobility scooters by adult Victorians between
the 1998 and 2003 surveys.
A review of the Australian Standards was also referred to in a 2006
article about the project published by the VISU. The article noted that a major
revision of Australian Standards for wheelchairs was being conducted for public
comment at the end of 2006, and with a projected release date of mid-2007. The
VISU article noted that the new Australian Standards, would be based on the
requirements of the European Standards (EN12183:1999 – Part 1 Manual
wheelchairs and EN 12184 – Part 2 Electrically powered wheelchairs
scooters and their chargers). It was argued at the time that it was
unlikely that new Standards would "deal sufficiently with the user-device
interface issues identified by our research".
Further, the VISU argued that a lead agency needed to be identified to
co-ordinate a national approach to deaths and injuries associated with motorised
It would seem that, as far back as 2006, organisations such as the VISU
were drawing attention to the need for a coordinated approach to data
collection, as well as the need for improvements to injury surveillance data
The DFM pointed to the lack of a coordinated national approach to the
safety issues associated with scooters, and described it as a "flaw in the
Australian product safety system".
The DFM also raised concerns about a situation in which the regulation of new
products is considered "only as a reaction to deaths and injuries".
It was argued that:
In this case, 12 years after scooter deaths and injuries were
first reported and published, we are now considering regulation. This [issue] is
compounded for motorised mobility scooters by the multiple jurisdictions
involved and the lack of an overarching authority.
The DFM stressed the importance of protecting the community and
recommended that Australia's product safety system adopt a more coordinated and
proactive approach to identify unsafe products, preferably prior to them
entering the marketplace, and to regulate them accordingly.
Given the lack of evidence in relation to the safety of motorised mobility
devices – including mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs – a large
number of submitters called for a systematic and sustained approach to data
collection in this area. It was argued that new research is needed in relation
to the design, safety performance, user experience and needs, and the rates and
causes of accidents, injuries and deaths involving mobility devices. It was
also argued that the areas of road design, regulatory interventions to improve
user safety and user-behavioural risk factors merit further research and
Researchers from the DFM made it clear that a lack of up-to-date data
makes it very difficult – if not impossible – to determine exactly what the
problems are. The DFM stated that there was an urgent need for further research
a comprehensive epidemiological study in relation to MMS deaths
and serious injuries (to include the use of some new codes that have recently
entered some data systems) to specify MMS injuries;
an in-depth study of fatal and serious head injuries to scooter
users to determine the potential for protection by helmets, such as bicycle
a systems approach applied to MMS safety relating to the machine,
the rider and the environment, including continued development and implementation
of user assessment programs and training; and
ongoing data collected nationally on numbers of MMS and of users,
including at least the age and sex of users, to inform monitoring and research
and to provide denominator data so researchers can examine the rates of
injuries and determine whether trends are changing.
Development of a nationally consistent approach to the use of motorised
In 2012, Austroads initiated a project to develop a nationally agreed framework
for the safe interaction of motorised mobility devices (MMDs)
with other road users (on roads and road-related areas). The Austroads project also
aims to improve both the construction and performance requirements for
motorised mobility devices.
Austroads noted that the objectives of the project are to:
introduce improved construction and performance requirements for
MMDs, so that they are less likely to result in unsafe outcomes when using
footpaths and other public infrastructure;
encourage designs of MMD that are more harmonious with
infrastructure, so as to minimise the consequences of user error or
address existing inadequacies in the ARRs related to MMDs;
make it easier to control the importation and sale of
non-complying MMDs; and
make it easier to identify devices that are suitable for
conveyance on public transport.
A forum, facilitated by Standards Australia, was held in July 2015, to
discuss the development of an Australian Standard Technical Specification for
Motorised Mobility Devices (ASTS). In late 2016, Standards Australia consulted
with key stakeholders and a draft ASTS was prepared.
Austroads advised that the ASTS is a construction standard based on
infrastructure capability, and that where appropriate, the ASTS uses the
requirements and test standards contained in AS/NZS 3695.2 Requirements and
test methods for electrically powered wheelchairs (including mobility
Austroads indicated that motorised mobility devices that meet the
technical specification will be issued with a permanent, tamper-proof label
that will be affixed to the device. A white label will indicate that the device
is suitable for use on public infrastructure such as roads, footpaths and
shared paths. Further, it was noted that if a device meets additional
requirements, it may be eligible for a blue coloured label. In addition to
being able to access public infrastructure, a blue-labelled device may also be
suitable to access specific passenger transport conveyances.
Austroads advised that the ASTS has, as its focus, collision avoidance.
It also sets out requirements for both construction and performance, including:
170 kg maximum unladen mass for motorised mobility scooters;
no maximum unladen mass for motorised wheelchairs;
a maximum laden mass of 300 kg for motorised mobility devices
(for a blue label);
10 km/h maximum speed;
for devices capable of exceeding 6 km/h, a low speed switch that
will restrict the speed of a device to 5 km/h (a functionality which is common
on many European devices);
other requirements based on Australian and international
standards such as stability on slopes, braking performance and electrical
maximum dimensional limits;
optional requirements for public transport compatibility
(stricter limits on width, static and dynamic stability and manoeuvring within
an allocated space); and
a blue or white permanently affixed label that displays key
device characteristics including make, model, length, width, unladen mass,
maximum safe slope, year of production and a unique identifier.
The committee was advised that increasing the maximum unladen mass for
motorised mobility scooters will allow larger people to purchase a mobility
device that is able to support them. In recognition that users of motorised
mobility devices have no alternative for mobility on public infrastructure, the
maximum unladen mass for traditional motorised wheelchairs has also been removed.
It was noted that it would be discriminatory to prevent these users lawful
access to paths "where their motorised wheelchair must weigh in excess of
170 kg when fitted with batteries, powerlifts and other equipment essential to
the effective use of the wheelchair".
The primary safety improvements expected from implementation of the ASTS
the slow switch will provide a practical mechanism to help ensure
users do not accidentally reach unsafe speeds; and
the improved engineering design of motorised mobility devices
used on public infrastructure will make them safer for users as well as other
Austroads noted that the use of the low speed switch will be encouraged
in areas of high pedestrian activity, or other locations where there may be
dangers – for example on a train platform. It was also noted that the changes
are consistent with the safe systems approach to improve road safety:
Maintaining a maximum speed of 10 km/h, with the addition of
a mandatory low speed mode if the device is capable of exceeding 6km/h will
help to ensure users travel at safe speeds. Changes such as the requirement for
MMDs to be able to negotiate slopes and obstacles also means the safety of
these vehicles will be improved.
The committee was advised that the Austroads project aims to improve the
information available to consumers at the point of sale, to ensure that
purchasers of motorised mobility devices are better informed and can purchase a
device that is fit for purpose. It was noted that:
Reliance will be placed on industry for
manufacturers/suppliers to self-certify MMDs against the ASTS. Compliance with
the certification scheme will be attained through control of sales and
enforcement of consumers' rights through Australian Consumer Law.
The committee was also advised that a comprehensive education program
will be implemented, to cover:
the responsibilities of manufacturers, suppliers and retailers;
dates from which compliance is required;
key information for consumers and users;
recommendations for other infrastructure users; and
guidelines for passenger transport operators.
Following the publication of the ASTS, Austroads is proposing to
approach the NTC and seek amendments to the ARRs which recognise the ASTS. This
will require the unanimous support of all Australian jurisdictions, and will be
subject to a Regulatory Impact Assessment. It is proposed that under the new
arrangements it will be an offence to use a non-compliant motorised mobility
device on public infrastructure.
Austroads noted that if the proposed changes to the ARRs are supported:
....jurisdictions will then need to make amendments to their
local legislation to give legal effect to the model legislation. This will
likely take 12 months to two years and industry will also need sufficient time
to turnover existing stock and implement the labelling scheme.
Austroads also advised that the successful implementation of the changes
provide customers with better information at the point of sale (about
the appropriateness of motorised mobility devices for their intended use);
improve safety for users and other pedestrians (by improving the
design of motorised mobility devices being used on public infrastructure); and
assist users and passenger transport operators to better
understand the devices that are likely suitable for conveyance on passenger
transport (through the use of the labelling scheme).
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