If your parent or elder relative has been independent all their life but now struggles to walk, you or they may be considering getting a mobility scooter to help them live independently and retain some of their freedom.
Mobility scooters aren’t for everyone, but they can be liberating machines for people with diminished mobility, and have become increasingly popular with older people in recent years (there are now thought to be over 350,000 of them in use in the UK).
While buying one requires a significant upfront investment, mobility scooters are typically long lasting and help people maintain continuity in their lives with regards to travel, visiting friends, going to the shops and being outside in the fresh air.
But how do you decide if a mobility scooter is safe and suitable for your elderly parent or relative?
Read on to get a better idea of the types of mobility scooter available, the rules that surround them, and how to obtain one.
Mobility scooter basics
Let’s start with what mobility scooters are exactly and how they are regulated. While mobility scooters don’t require insurance or tax, they’re bound by specific rules which govern their use.
Firstly, it’s important to clarify that mobility scooters are not the same as powered or electric wheelchairs.
Generally speaking, mobility scooters have three or four wheels, with most larger models featuring four similar-sized wheels. Powered wheelchairs, on the other hand, typically have six-wheels – two larger drive wheels and four stabilising casters.
From a legal standpoint, though, mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs are not treated differently, and are divided into two classes that define their use:
Class 2 Mobility Scooters – The simpler class of mobility scooters, Class 2, are designed primarily for pavements or areas where vehicles aren’t present. They have a speed limit of 4 mph and can’t be used on the road except to cross it. There’s no registration requirement for Class 2 scooters.
Class 3 scooters must be registered with the DVLA using either form V55/4 (for new vehicles) or V55/5 (for used ones). They’re not allowed in bus lanes, cycle lanes, or motorways and must have:
- Specific weight and width limits (150 kg maximum weight without the driver and a maximum width of 0.85 metres).
- A 4 mph speed setting for pavements.
- Functional brakes, front/rear lights, indicators, hazard lights and horn.
- A rearview mirror and an amber flashing light for dual carriageway usage.
Eligibility for using mobility scooters
There are no formal tests required for driving a mobility scooter and they aren’t subject to road tax or insurance. Surprisingly, you also don’t need any sort of driving licence to use one, even on the road (although you must obey – and therefore know – the highway code).
However, there are guidelines on who should use them and how to use them safely.
- Medical need: Mobility scooters are primarily for those who face difficulties walking due to injuries, physical disabilities, or specific medical conditions like arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
- Age restrictions: Users have to be at least 14 years old to drive one but there is no upper age limit
- Emotional and cognitive well-being: It’s crucial for users to be mentally alert. They need to be able to operate the scooter, be attentive to their surroundings, and make safe decisions when out and about.
- Assessments: It’s advisable to have a mobility assessment before deciding to get a mobility scooter. Organisations like Driving Mobility offer mobility assessments to help determine if a scooter is the right choice for an individual.
Is a mobility scooter the right choice for your parent or relative?
Whether a mobility scooter is the right choice for your parent or elder relative will be influenced by a number of factors, including their physical ability, cognitive health, character and lifestyle. You and they should consider all of these factors before deciding if a scooter is the best option, or if another type of mobility aid might be safer and more suitable.
- Posture and balance: It’s essential that users are able to maintain an upright posture. Assess whether your parent can sit without support and has good torso strength. The last thing you want is them toppling over while navigating a corner.
- Hand strength and dexterity: Operating a mobility scooter requires continuous pressing or pushing of buttons or levers. The user should have the necessary hand strength and coordination to operate these controls, especially in emergency stop situations.
- Spatial awareness: The user should be able to judge distances accurately. This is vital for tasks like manoeuvring around obstacles and ensuring they don’t inadvertently collide with people or objects.
- Reaction time: In crowded areas, quick reactions can be crucial to prevent accidents. Would they be able to respond swiftly to sudden obstacles?
- Understanding of traffic rules: If the user intends to use their scooter on roads, they must understand basic traffic rules. The Highway Code offers explicit rules for mobility scooter users.
Receptiveness and confidence
- Perception: For some elderly individuals, using a mobility scooter can be perceived as a concession to age or disability, which might be hard to accept. Some may view it as a loss of independence rather than a tool to enhance it.
- Fear factor: Anxieties about accidents, scooter malfunction, or even just the learning curve can deter some people.
Getting a mobility assessment
It’s a very wise idea for your parent or elder relative to get a professional mobility assessment before opting to purchase or hire a mobility scooter.
On a visit to one of their mobility centres, an assessor will:
- Conduct comprehensive evaluations on both physical and cognitive capabilities.
- Offer expert advice, factoring in the specific needs and lifestyle of the individual.
- Sometimes provide trial runs, allowing your loved one to test out different mobility aids, ensuring the choice made is both safe and appropriate.
Buying and hiring mobility scooters
If it’s suitable and your parent or elder relative wants to go ahead with a mobility scooter, you then need to decide whether to purchase or hire one. Both routes have their advantages and drawbacks, and which one you choose really depends on their available budget, and whether they need it for a short-period or longer-term.
Note: If your parent receives certain benefits or disability payments, you should first check if they are eligible to obtain a scooter through the Motability Scheme (see next section on Help with Costs for more detail).
Buying a mobility scooter
For long-term use, if you can afford to, you might consider purchasing a mobility scooter outright. Mobility scooters can cost from £500 to over £5,000, but you can always sell the scooter when it’s no longer needed and get some of that money back.
- Wide selection: Purchasing allows you the liberty to pick from an extensive range of models, tailoring your choice to exact needs and preferences.
- Long-term cost efficiency: While the initial outlay might be substantial, buying could be more economical in the long run if the scooter is to be used extensively, and can be sold when no longer in use.
- Expert reviews: Publications like Which? provide annual reviews, including their best scooters of 2023 guide.
- Consumer feedback: Apart from expert opinions, firsthand experiences from users can offer practical insights into the scooter’s performance in day-to-day scenarios.
Renting (mobility scooter hire)
- Flexibility: Mobility scooter hire is ideal for those who need a scooter for a short period of time, be it recovering from surgery or a temporary setback in mobility.
- Maintenance and repairs: Often, mobility scooter hire agreements will cover maintenance, sparing you from unforeseen expenses and the hassle of repairs.
Google: Simply search Google for mobility scooter hire in your area. It’s best to hire one from a business close by that has a showroom you and your relative can easily visit, so they have the opportunity to try out different options and find one that they feel comfortable with.
Local advice: You might also consider contacting your parent or relative’s GP or their local council, in case they have suggestions or recommendations for mobility scooter hire options close by.
Help with costs
Mobility scooters aren’t cheap, and not everyone has the means to purchase or even rent a scooter outright. Fortunately, there are ways to get help with costs that are worth exploring if you think your parent or relative is eligible.
Motability Scheme: Your parent can join the Motability Scheme if they receive one of the following mobility allowances (with at least 12 months left)
- Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)
- Enhanced rate mobility part of Adult Disability Payment (Scotland)
- Higher rate mobility part of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
- Higher rate mobility part of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS)
By joining, they can hire a mobility scooter of their choice in exchange for their mobility allowance. The scheme’s mobility scooter package includes insurance, breakdown cover, regular services and routine repairs.
Charities and schemes: A number of charities and local organisations offer financial assistance for mobility scooters, including the MS Society, The Mobility Trust and Hospital Saturday Fund. If your parent or elder relative has a particular medical condition, its worth contacting a charity that represents people with their condition to see if they can offer advice on this.
How to choose the right mobility scooter
There are numerous models of mobility scooter on the market, coming in all shapes and sizes with a varying range of features. Finding the one that perfectly aligns with your parent or relative’s ability, needs, lifestyle and budget requires careful consideration.
Which style is best?
There are many different options for mobility scooters, from versatile 4-wheel Class 2 and Class 3 scooters to lightweight foldable scooters and more.
If you take your parent or elder relative to a mobility assessment centre, someone will help walk you through the best options.
- Folding scooters: These are specifically designed for people who travel often. Folding scooters can be easily collapsed into a compact form, making them ideal for placing in the boot of a car or taking on public transport.
- Portable scooters: Different from folding scooters, portable ones can be disassembled into parts, facilitating easier transportation. They’re excellent for those who might not have the strength to lift a complete scooter but can manage individual components.
- Road-legal scooters: For those who wish to take their scooter on the road, there are models that comply with road requirements. They’re typically faster, more robust, and equipped with necessary safety features like mirrors, headlights, and indicators.
- Off-road scooters: A burgeoning class of scooters designed for all-terrain use, helping to get people outside in nature.
- Powered wheelchairs: Provide a more seamless experience for those who are already used to operating wheelchairs.
What technical specifications should you look for?
There are a few technical aspects you should pay close attention to when deciding on a scooter.
Battery life: Battery life is undoubtedly and important feature of a mobility scooter and something you would want to know about! A full charge typically offers a range between 8 to 30 miles, but this can vary based on battery type, scooter model and usage.
Weight capacity: It’s important to check the scooter’s weight capacity, to ensure it can comfortably support your parent or relative.
Manoeuvrability: The turning radius can impact manoeuvrability in tighter spaces, while ground clearance will determine the scooter’s ability to handle uneven surfaces.
Other factors like top speed, overall dimensions for storage or transportation, and the type of tyres (pneumatic or solid) can affect both the scooter’s utility and comfort.
No matter how perfect a scooter might seem on paper or how highly it’s rated online, real-world performance and comfort can only really be determined with a test drive.
Virtually all reputable mobility scooter vendors and providers offer test-drive services, sometimes with home visits.
During a test drive, you should check:
- Comfort: Seating and handlebar comfort, suspension quality, and legroom are best judged in person.
- Accessibility: How easy is it to get on and off?
- Manoeuvrability: How well does the scooter handle turns? Is it responsive enough for your relative’s needs?
Trusted brands and recommendations
Some well-known brands include:
- Pride Mobility
- Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare
- TGA Mobility
- Roma Medical (Shoprider)
- Kymco Healthcare
- Sterling (a part of Sunrise Medical)
- Electric Mobility (Rascal range)
Practical considerations for daily use
Before your parent or elder relative starts using a mobility scooter, it’s important to take note of the following considerations.
- Understanding Regulations: The government provides comprehensive information on where mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs can be used, speed limits and regulations. Start here.
- Insurance: Even if not mandatory, insurance can provide peace of mind against potential damage or theft.
- Safety precautions: Speed settings should be adjusted according to the environment (slower on pavements, faster on roads). Using reflective materials or lights, especially in low visibility conditions, is paramount for safety.
- Maintenance and battery life: Regular servicing ensures the scooter remains in peak condition. Understanding the scooter’s battery life and charging intervals can prevent breakdowns and avoid the user being stranded without charge.
Training and mobility scooter courses
Being motorised vehicles, mobility scooters can take some getting used to. It’s about understanding the handling of the vehicle, the environment and what you are and aren’t allowed to do.
Just like learning to drive a car, mastering the controls of a mobility scooter takes time and practice. Training sessions help instil confidence, ensuring that the user doesn’t feel overwhelmed or anxious during their initial rides.
It’s important not to underestimate the importance of safety. Mobility scooters, while incredibly beneficial, are not without risks. Each year in the UK, there are a number of injuries and fatalities associated with mobility scooter incidents, and they are on the rise – to the point where there are calls for stricter regulation to be introduced.
Proper training equips users to handle potential hazards, from crowded pavements to crossing busy streets. It’s not just about their safety but also about ensuring the well-being of pedestrians and other road users.
There are many mobility scooter training courses across the UK, and most are held by Driving Mobility. Here are some useful links:
- Driving Mobility: Holding multiple sessions throughout the UK, encompassing not just the technicalities of scooter operation but also situational awareness and risk management. Find out more about their locations here.
- Mobility Equipment Training: Mobility scooter training provider situated in Plymouth.
- Parkgate Mobility: Mobility scooter training provider situated in South Yorkshire.
You can find other regional training centres through a simple Google search.
Mobility scooters can be a lifeline for older people for maintaining independence.
They’re an excellent choice for those who have no cognitive health issues, but struggle with their mobility and want to maximise their independence and freedom of movement. Of course, there are expenses to consider, and mobility scooters aren’t suitable for everyone.
Always take time to research the types and classes of mobility scooters, consulting with relevant mobility organisations, charities and advice lines. A mobility assessment can help direct you and your parent or relative towards the mobility scooter that would best suit their needs.
Test drives are a must, and training courses will go a long way to making your parent or relative (and you!) feel more at ease while they are on their scooter so they can get the best out of it.
- Are mobility scooters safe?
Mobility scooters are designed with safety in mind, and when used correctly, they can be a safe mode of transport. As with any mobility device, it’s crucial for the user to receive proper training, read the user manual, and adhere to all safety guidelines. Regular maintenance and checks also ensure the scooter remains in safe working order.
- Can I get help to buy a mobility scooter?
Yes, the Motability Scheme is one of the primary initiatives that helps eligible individuals lease mobility scooters in an affordable way. Besides Motability, some charities and organisations also offer financial assistance.
- Can I get a free mobility scooter?
The NHS and social services do not provide free mobility scooters. However, anyone receiving certain mobility allowances, like the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), can use these funds to lease a mobility scooter through the Motability Scheme.
Various charities and organisations may also offer subsidies or support.
- Can you use a mobility scooter on both public pavements and roads in the UK?
Mobility scooters are classified into two main categories: Class 2 and Class 3. Class 2 scooters are designed for pavement use only and have a maximum speed of 4mph. Class 3 scooters, on the other hand, can be used on the road and have a maximum speed of 8mph.
However, they should not be used on motorways or unrestricted dual carriageways. All users, regardless of scooter type, should adhere to the specific guidelines detailed in the Highway Code.
- Do I need insurance for my mobility scooter?
While it’s not a legal requirement to have insurance for mobility scooters in the UK, it is highly recommended. Insurance can protect users against costs from accidents, theft or damages to third parties.
- How long do mobility scooter batteries last?
The lifespan of mobility scooter batteries can vary based on usage and maintenance. On average, with regular use, a battery may last between 12 to 18 months.
However, proper care, such as regular charging and avoiding deep discharges, can extend lifespans.
- How long can I travel on my mobility scooter with a fully charged battery?
The range of a mobility scooter on a single charge depends on various factors, including the battery capacity, the weight of the user, the terrain, and the scooter’s model.
On average, most mobility scooters can travel between 8 to 30 miles on a full charge. It’s best to check the manufacturer’s specifications for precise details and to always keep the battery well-maintained for optimal performance.