A recent upswing in the use of scooters, motorized wheelchairs and other mobility devices has allowed those with diminished mobility – such as the elderly – to move about more freely than they have in the past. There is no doubt that the access to this technology, both through improvements in the mobility devices themselves and by way of greater availability, has improved the lives of many people who would otherwise find themselves with little or no ability to get around. These devices offer those who use them an increased degree of independence.
However, they also present challenges. As a society, it seems that we are still adjusting to this increased presence, and as such there are sometimes insufficient laws in place to protect scooter drivers, motorists and pedestrians in incidents where mobility scooters are a factor.
Franklin Flynn, a seventy-one year old Marietta man, died last week after an moving vehicle accident when his electric mobility scooter was struck by a sports utility vehicle.
Flynn was riding his electric scooter, a Hoveround, south in a northbound lane of traffic when he was struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe turning south out of a parking lot, according to police. Flynn was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, where he died several days later. The driver of the Tahoe was not charged in the accident.
In incidents like this, the course of action that law enforcement should take is sometimes unclear, due in part to the nature of mobility scooters. The exact safety and etiquette for scooters and scooter/driver interaction is often poorly defined. Are scooters treated like pedestrians? Cyclists? Are there explicit rules to govern their use on sidewalks? On streets? These questions are frustrating as well as relevant.
In the UK, the question has been taken a step farther to wonder if people who drive mobility scooters ought to receive training for them. After a spate of accidents involving elderly drivers on scooters injuring or, as in the case of a ninety year old who was struck while in a crosswalk, even killing others on the road, the Norfolk, Virginia Police began offering a voluntary training class for scooter drivers.
“We have listened to the issues and concerns of the public and, with the help of our partners, have developed a mobility scooter awareness course that enhances the users’ ability to use their scooter in a safe and appropriate manner,” said a spokesman for the Norfolk Police.
While this seems like a sound start, and perhaps we can eventually see some sort of training programs in place stateside, it also seems to sidestep the other half of this equation. Safer driving on the part of scooters can hardly be a bad idea, but what about the drivers and pedestrians that they share the pavement with? Learning and understanding how mobility scooters and those around them can most safely coexist will, without a doubt, become a priority in years to come, and hopefully one day will lead to fewer accidents like that which killed Franklin Flynn.