New York City, USA - August 7, 2005: Disabled couple in scooters walking their dog in Central Park on a summer day

The suggestion that up to 30 per cent of wheelchair and scooter users could face prosecution if these devices were used on public footpaths because of their instability has been strongly rejected by Austroads managing director, Nick Koukoulas, describing it as “absolutely inaccurate.”

Koukoulas was responding to a media release from Scooters Australia managing director, Peter Fraser that Austroads is proposing to make it illegal for any Class A scooter or wheelchair to be used in a public place on footpaths in Australia. The Class A category includes portable and collapsible mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs and are estimated to be used by nearly a third of mobility scooter users. The devices have been available for 20 years and can be purchased through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

According to Koukoulas the issue is devices that are designed specifically for indoor use are being passed off as suitable for use on footpaths and other public infrastructure. Their lightweight design, accompanied by small wheels and a high centre of gravity, makes them significantly more likely to topple over on gradients or navigating bumps on a path.

“The technical specifications will allow many small portable devices to meet the requirements for a blue or white label. These will need to be tested to the existing class B requirements for indoor/outdoor devices. However many devices that have been specifically manufactured for indoor use won’t meet the requirements for a label. These are not designed for use on footpaths and won’t be offered for sale as being suitable for use on such infrastructure,” he said. “The labelling system is designed to make it clearer for persons at the point of purchase about the suitability of the device being purchased for its intended use.”

Koukoulas said further to this is the issue is that standards are legal mandates when they are not. “There are Australian and international standards that can be referenced regarding motorised mobility devices (MMDs), but none of the standards are law.  The idea that legislation might be put in place to reference a non-binding standard is incorrect”.

According to Fraser, the Austroads proposal does not prohibit the sale of these products, but proposes to ban them for use in all public areas which are under the control of state transport ministers. “Portable scooters and powerchairs have become the most popular segment of the mobility market in Australia and around the world, simply because they have such broad applications. They can be taken on aircraft and cruise ships and fit easily into a car boot,” he said.