By Paul Hemsley
The issue of safely managing the growing numbers of people using personal mobility scooters to get around town has been a longstanding concern for local governments, however Lake Macquarie City Council near the New South Wales port of Newcastle has hit upon an idea it hopes will make uptake of the devices safer for their drivers and pedestrians alike.
In a move that could be adopted by other councils, Lake Macquarie has announced that it will now offer its local seniors a free test drive of motorised mobility scooters through a one-day event intended aimed at building better awareness of safety and preventing accidents.
Around 231,000 Australians now use mobility devices to help them remain active and independent, a market that is set to grow in proportion with an ageing population and increased life-spans.
The novel offer of a free test drive of scooter for seniors is part of council’s Annual Seniors Program and will be presented by New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), brain activity specialist Mindnasium and Walk on Wheels, a supplier of the mobility scooters.
The scooter test drives are part of a wider information session slated for 28th February which Lake Macquarie is promoting to educate seniors about mobility scooters, licencing, road safety and maintenance requirements. Importantly, the council is pushing the event to help prospective new scooter users choose the right device for their needs.
Lake Macquarie City Council’s Manager Community Planning John Ferguson said the test drive offer is to help seniors decide whether the vehicle is the right option for them.
A big social benefit of scooters is that they provide a viable alternative form of transport to cars for seniors, especially for shorter trips like visits to shops, community facilities and friends and relatives. However the process of selecting a mobility device can sometimes be a daunting prospect for potential new users unfamiliar with how they work and the various options available.
A Lake Macquarie City Council spokesperson said the test drives were being made available to give seniors firsthand experience of the scooter options available and with no obligation to purchase, although details of the local suppliers could be provided on the day.
Previous accidents involving mobility scooters have prompted local governments to hold events to educate seniors about how to properly operate mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs.
In April 2013, the City of Sydney held a workshop for that very purpose and to reduce the number of older people who are hospitalised each year “after losing control of their vehicles or falling from their buggies”.
The safety challenge has been one that the City of Sydney has been keen to address after the RMS reported that six motorised wheelchairs and one mobility scooter were involved in accidents in the area in 2007-2011.
But the issue of mobility scooter safety has also become problematic for some councils.
Sydney’s Holroyd City Council is one local government that has sought better regulation of the devices.
In November 2012, Holroyd made a submission at the Local Government and Shires Association of NSW (LGSA) Conference in Dubbo for tougher rules on the use of motorised scooters and electric wheelchairs, the licencing users and a clear differentiation between pedestrians and motorised scooters.
However the council’s submission was ultimately rejected at the conference.
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