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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 09:22 GMT
Wheelchairs prompt safety fears
Motorised wheelchair
Motorised wheelchair users do not have to take out insurance
Motorised wheelchairs used by pensioners and disabled people need to be governed by more safety regulations, says a Liberal Democrat MP.

Bob Russell says the machines help many people but is worried they can be a threat to pedestrians when used badly.

He says there should be more rules on user competence, third party insurance, maintenance and second-hand sales.

"Hell's grannies" is the nickname given to the worst users of the machines, which are driven by 100,000 Britons.

Last year, seven motorised wheelchair users died in crashes and 402 were involved "adverse" incidents, according to government figures.

One woman reportedly died when she reversed her wheelchair off a pier into the sea.

Collision fears

Mr Russell says the machines can reach 8mph and could hurt pedestrians if there was a collision.

Reputable dealers make sure people get the appropriate wheelchair, he said, praising Shopmobility in his Colchester constituency.

But the MP raised his fears after the Essex Disabled People's Association made a warning about second hand sales.

Mr Russell told BBC News: "This is a relatively new form of transport over the last 10 or 20 years.

"They have improved the situation for those who have a need for these machines ... The problem is with the second hand market."

He is worried that the wheelchairs often outlive their owner and can be sold on without proper checks on maintenance or whether they are suitable for the buyer.

Just as there are good and bad cyclists, there are good and bad users of powered wheelchairs
Allen Jones
Wheelchair Users' Group

Insurance is not compulsory for motorised wheelchairs, although the Department of Health does recommend third party cover.

Mr Russell's call has sparked criticism from some disabled people's groups.

Allen Jones, chairman of the Wheelchair Users' Group, said the same concerns could apply to cyclists.

He told the Times newspaper: "Will they now regulate cyclists who travel much faster and often on the pavements?

"Just as there are good and bad cyclists, there are good and bad users of powered wheelchairs."

Mr Jones admitted he had seen some wheelchair users driving like "stupid idiots".

The speed limits for the wheelchairs are 4mph on pavements - essentially walking pace - and 8mph on roads.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said she was not aware of anybody ever being prosecuted under the speeding rules, but could not say whether or not police had given informal warnings.

The department is reviewing safety standards for the wheelchairs, including speed limits, technical requirements and training.

The vast majority of users drove safely, she added.

Regulation warning

Mr Russell's concerns were addressed by Health Minister Stephen Ladyman in a recent House of Commons debate.

He said the speed limits painted "a picture of policemen hiding behind trees with radar guns to leap out and catch 'hell's grannies' as they perambulate through our constituencies".

Mr Ladyman said further regulation would impose unnecessary restrictions on those who depend on the wheelchairs for a better quality of life.

But he acknowledged the second-hand market was a "big concern".

Here are some of your comments on whether more rules are needed for motorised wheelchairs?

I think more rules are needed and more training as well as making the public more aware of the rules. Only yesterday an elderly gentleman crossed at a pedestrian crossing in one of these, whilst the lights were on green for the traffic, very nearly causing an accident. If these can be driven on the road then surely road tax rules and insurance regulation should apply too.
Zoe Dunne, Bournemouth, Dorset

Motorised wheelchairs are a great asset to disabled/elderly. But there are facts that need to be considered for all road users. In order to drive a car - you have to know road regulations and safety (Highway code), vehicle maintenance, and then do a demonstration test to show you are able to control your vehicle, and are not a hazard to other road users. Should this not be the same for motorised wheelchair users? Perhaps even more so - for their own safety as well as that of other road users?
Tasha , Devon, England

Yes, there should be more controls for these motorised wheelchairs, particularly when people use them on the road. But I very much agree with the Wheelchair Users' Chairman's comments about cyclist - too many people ride on the pavements with almost no regard for pedestrians. And cyclists, too, should have to be insured.
Kevan James, Norwich, Norfolk

The people using these machines should be asked to take some kind of test as unlike a bike they are much bigger and can't be heard coming! Many a time I have seen idiots using these on roads, causing danger to themselves and other road users. Laws need to be put into place on having warning sounds on the machines when they are in motion and fines if they are used on roads. Just because the users are often old or disabled does not give them the right to the pavement over pedestrians.
Xander Nicholls, Bournemouth, Dorset

Is this going to be just another form of stealth tax for the disabled and pensioners. My sister had MS and drove one for many years quite safely indoors and out doors. It gave her a quality of life and some independence. Otherwise she would have been cooped up at home until one of us was ready to take her out.
Dilys Marvin, Sawtry, Huntingdon. England

No more rules - you can't legislate for everything. Stop fussing
Pete, Shropshire

Yes! Same as I think there should be more for cyclists! I witnessed one lady pensioner once nearly take out about four pedestrians at a pedestrian crossing because she had absolutely no control over the buggy she was driving. She was either stopped or at full speed, there seemed to be no in between!
Johanna, Cardiff

These Hell's Grannies and Hell's Grandpas are a menace. They dawdle along the middle of a road, seemingly with myopic control of steering and a fundamental lack of knowledge about vehicle control, causing traffic congestion and frustrated car drivers which inevitably leads to dangerous overtaking procedures. They should be made to pass a test or better still banned from the roads and put on to the pavements.
Russell, Manchester

I feel a little mean saying this but yet there does need to be rules, many times I find myself playing chicken with a wheelchair, and getting shunted from side to side. I don't have no grudges but they need to be used a little safer sometimes.
Mark Walton, Durham, UK

I think there should be compulsory insurance. When my wife had to use a motorised wheelchair a few years ago I was appalled that there seemed to be no need for insurance. And also how hard it was to get insurance - no insurer seemed to have thought it was necessary. As they are very heavy they could give you a nasty knock if you hit someone - however since people never seem to notice them - especially in shops - maybe the general public need training in keeping their eyes open!
Nick Morton, Camborne, Cornwall, UK

No more rules - you can't legislate for everything. Stop fussing!
Pete, Shropshire

Until the existing laws are enforced, wheelchair users, like cyclists, will continue to disregard them whenever it makes their lives easier
Steve, Southampton

I don't see any problem with these vehicles as long as they are driven carefully. 8mph is no faster than a jogger on the pavement who could do the same harm to someone in a collision. I think they do become dangerous on the road.
Tom , Bournemouth

This Lib Dem should be ashamed of himself picking on the most vulnerable in society.
Ian Alexander, Towcester, Northants, UK

I think we need to be careful about the term "motorised wheelchairs". Plenty of people, my dad included, are unable to walk AT ALL and use electric/motorised wheelchairs for all of their mobility needs; responsibly, and safely.

The people who seem to be a problem are those who get a "free ride" in the vehicles provided by large stores etc, who don't know how to use them, are using them often for the first time in a confined space, and assume that everyone will be watching them and getting out of their way. Many (not all) of these people managed to get to the shops without using mobility aids...
Susan Witterick, London, UK

I don't think we necessarily need more rules as opposed to more space on the pavements. There just isn't enough room for pedestrians, cyclists AND powered wheelchairs.
Steve, Nottingham, UK

Until the existing laws are enforced, wheelchair users, like cyclists, will continue to disregard them whenever it makes their lives easier. Steve, Southampton, UK

I don't see motorised wheelchairs as a problem. The biggest annoyance as a pedestrian and driver are cyclists who have no lights at night, jump red lights, ride on the pavements at all hours and are rude or abusive when remonstrated with.
Simon, Northampton

This sounds like a Monty Python sketch! I can see it now, the pedestrians unable to dodge something moving at an average person's running speed, policemen with their radar guns ready and then using a stinger device to stop it...
Stewart, Bracknell, Berks

No, we don't need yet more rules. We just need to obey/enforce what we've already got. They're plenty.
Robin Almond, Chatteris, Cambs

Yes please! in particular could legislation be passed to stop these vehicles driving along roads, creating a huge tailback of traffic doing about 5mph.
Rachel, Ely, Cambs

Why don't we just bubble wrap everyone before they leave the house - failure to don said bubble wrap could induce an on the spot fine! That way everyone is happy? Yes? Utter nonsense.
Julie Davis, Tenterden Kent

Instead of punishing disabled people and pensioners for their infirmities, how about making high-streets and shopping centres more accessible for such people, for example by banning or removing unnecessary street furniture such as huge concrete advertising hoardings?
Peter, UK

Wheelchair crash victim named
20 Feb 04 |  Northamptonshire
'Lassie' saves owner from ditch
21 May 03 |  North Yorkshire

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