Why we have a Highway Code for electric scooters and wheelchairs
Powered mobility products are divided into Class II and Class III vehicles. Class II are limited to up to 4mph and in general are designed for pavement use. Class III mobility products have a maximum speed of up to 8mph for road use but have a switch to reduce the maximum speed to 4mph so they can also be used on a pavement.
Where pavements do not exist, you may have to use the road until you can return to a pavement at the first opportunity.
Driven safely, mobility products can give people freedom and independence. In the wrong hands, they can do considerable damage to property and other pedestrians.
Which Highway Code category do wheelchair/scooter drivers come into?
The categories of road users in the Highway Code are pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists, and motorists. As a wheelchair/scooter user, you don’t really fit any of these categories. You may however partly fit one of them.
Road or footpath?
Some wheelchairs/scooters can only be driven safely on the road. This does not always make it safe to do so. To drive safely on the road, it is advisable to have a Class III vehicle capable of doing 6/8 miles an hour, equipped with headlights, rear lights, flashing indicators, and a horn. Even with all this, you may not use dual carriageways unless you also have an additional flashing beacon light. You are not permitted to use bus lanes or cycle tracks.
Under no circumstances is it permissible for scooters or wheelchairs to be driven on motorways.
General points to consider before buying your vehicle
Make sure you are able and fit to use it safely. It is usually possible to get advice through your local social services or occupational health service and your doctor.
You need to be able to:
- See well enough to be safe.
- Adequately control your vehicle and do all the possible manoeuvres, such as reversing, climbing, and descending kerbs and turning safely.
- Cross busy roads. This is not as easy on a scooter/wheelchair as on foot.
- Know the rules of safety and consideration for yourself and other people.
It is important to talk through your requirements with a BHTA specialist or talk to your therapist or healthcare professional if you need advice. This applies even if you have driven a car previously, as it is very different from driving a scooter/wheelchair. If you would like advice from a BHTA specialist, click here and type in “mobility” in the Find a Member section.
At present, there is no overall legal obligation about insurance, though some finance companies insist on it. Nevertheless, it is a very good idea to make sure you are covered for fire and theft, accidental and malicious damage, and third-party damages – just in case.
Comfort and safety
Make sure your vehicle is the right one for you. Get advice when choosing and watch for things like seat and handle positions and height. It is important you are comfortable and in full control of your vehicle.
The reasons for choosing three- or four-wheeled vehicles are varied and depend on many factors such as your weight, size and height, weight of chair for lifting, and quality of your roads. You need to be extremely careful when ascending and descending kerbs and when turning, as if this is not done carefully and properly the scooter will tip.
The manufacturer’s literature and owner’s manual will tell you the range of your vehicle, but remember this is a guide only. Generally, they tell you the range if driven on the level on a smooth surface and when the batteries are new. Few people would want to drive round a smooth car park for 20-25 miles!
Rough surfaces, hills, gradients, cold weather, kerbs, and carrying a load of shopping will all reduce the distance you can do without charging your batteries. Recharge your batteries according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Do not be too ambitious where distance is concerned. Build up your experience and range gradually.
Many mobility insurance packages include a “get you home” service within their policies, so it is worth discussing with your local BHTA specialist for advice.
Consider investing in a mobile phone
Some service providers will provide a special low rate for occasional users who need the phone for possible emergencies.
On the footpath, the limit is 4mph (6.4kph), whatever the capacity of your vehicle. On the road, it is 8mph (12.6kph). If driving a Class III vehicle on the pavement, it must be switched to 4mph mode.
Do not overload your mobility product. It may make the vehicle unstable and reduce its range. Place heavy loads inboard in the middle. Not behind the back wheel, which can lighten the steering or cause the front end to lift off the road on a bump, and not at the front, which might make steering heavy.
Watch your brakes
Never try to drive, or even sit on, your vehicle while it is in “free wheel”. The electronic brake will be out of action, and the vehicle could run away with you.
Get your vehicle serviced regularly according to the manufacturer’s advice.
Keep tyres at the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. They will last longer and be safer. Replace them when they become worn.
Check bulbs regularly and replace if not working properly. Use your lights frequently, at dusk onwards, and on a dull or rainy day.
These are normally provided with all new mobility products and can give you good advice on how to use and maintain your vehicle. If buying second-hand, it is always worth trying to obtain a copy from the manufacturer for advice.
Sensible guidelines for safety
When using the footpath
Just because you are on a footpath or pedestrian precinct does not make you a pedestrian. If you are on a motorised vehicle, you are no longer a pedestrian.
Remember, pedestrians always have right of way. Many people on foot will be kind and helpful to drivers of a wheelchair/scooter but not everyone!
In a crowded precinct or market area, or footpath, it is your responsibility to ensure you do not run into anyone or do any harm with your vehicle. While many people will make way for you, you cannot expect everyone to do so. Some will appear to not even realise you are there. They will climb round and even over your vehicle rather than allow you room to move. Make sure you have your vehicle set to 4mph if it is a Class III (6/8 mph) product.
Do not yield to the temptation to ram them!
When climbing or descending kerbs
Always approach at right angles, with your front wheels straight on the kerb. In some powerchairs, it is necessary to descend high kerbs backwards.
Do not try to climb or descend kerbs higher than the manufacturer recommends. Move carefully to avoid traumatic bumps to yourself or your vehicle.
Watch out for
- Children – They may well run in front of you without warning. You may only be moving very slowly, but you could still injure a child.
- Elderly people – They may be unable to quickly move aside to let you pass. Give way to them.
- Disabled people on foot – Give them space and time.
- Other motorised vehicle users – You may be doing all the right things. This does not guarantee they will do likewise.
When you need help
You may need to ask people to open doors for you. Most people are willing to help, if asked politely. Don’t struggle to do the impossible or even the very difficult things when there are people around who would help if asked.
Driving inside shops and buildings
This is where you have the advantage over car users! Not many supermarkets would welcome a car driving round their store. But bigger shops and even some quite small ones are accessible to wheelchairs and scooters.
Once inside the store, it is your responsibility to drive safely and not damage the fittings, the stock, or hurt other shoppers or store workers. You may need to ask for help. Again, in most cases, people are willing if asked properly. Don’t risk pulling down a whole display to reach the top shelf. Ask for help.
Speed in shops and buildings – Reduce it!
It is a good idea to set the speed control to a lower level to avoid any accident. Be especially careful if you need to reverse; check that your way is clear of shop fittings and people. Three-wheeled scooters with their manoeuvrability and lightness of steering are more suited to shopping.
On the road
Remember you are not driving a car but a very small and slow vehicle, which is therefore more vulnerable. If it is possible, use the footpath. It is wise to avoid using roads, particularly busy ones.
When driving your vehicle on the road
Remember, although this is legal for all vehicles, it is not always safe or sensible to do so. You are responsible for your own safety and that of other road users. The normal rules of the road apply but modified.
You must observe the law about:
- Driving on the left side of the road. Never drive against the traffic.
- One-way streets – Never drive against the traffic.
- Giving way where cars would give way (details in the Highway Code).
- Obeying traffic lights and all other road signals and instructions.
- Giving way to pedestrians on crossings.
But always remember your vehicle is not a car and is small and vulnerable.
If you need to turn right across traffic, try to get on to the footpath before the turn, and then use a safe pedestrian crossing or traffic light control crossing. Only try to turn right if you are completely sure it is safe to do so. Do not rely on your mirror. It may give a false impression of distance. Always give clear indication of intention to turn left or right.
Remember – The car you can see when you look behind may appear a long way away, but it is almost certainly moving faster than you are, often deceptively so. It could well be upon you before you complete your manoeuvre. And it may not be able to stop in time.
When passing a parked vehicle
Take great care you are not moving into the path of a faster moving vehicle coming behind you or towards you. Always signal your intention to pull out.
In the event of a difficult or dangerous situation, use your hazard lights, but do not drive with them on unnecessarily.
Be visible to other pedestrians and road users. When out and about on your mobility vehicle, you can make your presence increase by wearing high visibility jackets or some other reflective wear. It is better to be seen and be safe.
Also read our article on ‘Buying a mobility vehicle’ before purchasing a mobility product.
Sarah joined BHTA in April 2018.
After graduating with a Masters in English Language from De Montfort University, Sarah works across all BHTA publications (including AT Today and THIIS).