A nationally consistent regulatory framework for motorised mobility devices (MMDs) was one of the key recommendations to emerge from a Senate inquiry. The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee also noted that any future regulation of mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs needed to be evidence-based and recognise the importance of safety of users and others, but not add any additional barriers or make access and inclusion more difficult for a frequently marginalised section of the community.
There was general consensus around the continuation of a 5 km/h minimum speed and a 10 km/h maximum speed. The committee suggested that this evidence be taken into consideration by Austroads as part of its future deliberations. The committee also recommended that Austroads take the report, and the evidence provided to the inquiry, into account for the purposes of its deliberations, in particular, education of users as well as licensing and registration arrangements and third party insurance.
From the very early stages of the inquiry, submissions from road transport and traffic agencies, community organisations and individuals expressed clear support for the development of a nationally consistent approach. Submitters also stressed the importance of finding a way to achieve both consistency and clarity in relation to the use and safety of mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs.
Stakeholders acknowledged that achieving this outcome represented a challenge, from both a policy and legislative perspective. Researchers also concluded that motorised mobility device users, vendors and health professionals needed to work together to identify mobility devices that best fulfilled users’ needs, were reliable and safe.
While the weight of mobility devices was raised throughout the inquiry, it was not identified as a key safety concern by submitters. However, the committee did have concerns about the lack of clarity in regard to weight limits and was of the view that further research is required to determine whether weight limits have any major impact on safety, and whether it is necessary to set limits in future regulations.
The inquiry has determined that there is considerable agreement around the need to develop less complex, nationally consistent rules and regulations relating to the use of motorised mobility devices. Based on evidence provided to the committee during its inquiry, the committee suggests that there is a high level of agreement amongst stakeholders in relation to:
- the need for individuals to be assessed by a medical professional, such as an occupational therapist (OT, prior to purchasing a motorised mobility device
- the need for individuals to purchase a motorised mobility device that is suitable for both their needs and their (physical and mental) abilities
- the need for users of motorised mobility devices to have access to appropriate training
- the need for consistency in relation to the speeds at which motorised mobility devices are permitted to travel (including a maximum speed of 10 km/h)
- the need for further consideration to be given to implementing a simple, low-cost system which covers the licensing, registration and insurance of motorised mobility devices, including mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs
- the need for individuals to have met both medical and training requirements prior to being permitted to purchase, register and insure their motorised mobility device.
The committee was also of the view that the current lack of up-to- date data makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for authorities to determine exactly what the specific problems are that they need to mitigate against and supported the call for additional research.
Commenting on the report, specifically to road infrastructure and safety hazards, Austroads managing director, Nick Koukoulas told F2L rules are generally harmonised by the National Transport Commission (NTC) and the implementation of regulations or legislation is the responsibility of each jurisdiction to act on. “The Austroads Registration and Licensing Task Force (RLTF) do consider these matters and make recommendations about this type of subject and expect input from a wide group of stakeholders including the NTC and RLTF on behalf of jurisdiction registration licensing bodies.” He said each of the jurisdictions will determine time frames if any substantial changes were to be taken forward.
When it comes to licensing, registration and insurance Koukoulas said registration of all road vehicles, including bicycles and electric wheelchairs etc, would need to be considered. “There will be a lot of costs for users and administrative and compliance costs for jurisdictions to introduce registration, insurance, training for users and renewals,” he said.
He acknowledged there were many challenges ahead, not least discriminating against those whose use these mobility devices. Also, the non-alignment of international and Australian standards and the inconsistent enforcement of those standards on imported devices, and those in regular use. “It is unclear that any benefits would be heavily outweighed by the lack of benefits, such as cost burdens and discrimination issues.”
A good practice approach to MMD regulation with involvement of key stakeholders was essential to develop an evidenced, nationally consistent regulatory framework, was the response from the Australian Rehabilitation and Technology Association (ARATA).
“The committee raised the important topic of safe use of MMDs, and the report contains a range of important findings which could guide a systematic approach to enhanced road safety for MMD users and the community,” ARATA president, Dr Natasha Layton told F2L.
She said important principles from the report, which were not fully realised in the recommendations, included well-designed infrastructure and cities which are built to cater for MMDs, evidence-based public education campaigns and MMD training opportunities and funding of systematic data collection and research studies, to inform policy and inform MMD design and development.
“ARATA encourages Austroads to take an evidence-informed and multi-stakeholder perspective in establishing regulatory frameworks, to ensure a balance of safety and access, for all Australians,” Layton said.
Permobil advisor Malcolm Turnbull told F2L while he was pleased with the inquiry and the recommendations of the committee overall and an assessment by an OT and education would be ideal, he had reservations about such assessments not adding a financial burden on end users, describing it as “magical thinking”. He said based on current NDIS experience, the cost for an OT to assess a person for a custom manual wheelchair is in the order of $500 to $1,000. “I am in favour of an appropriate assessment and training, but if it requires a professional OT/medical practitioner then it will, of course, impose a financial burden on users, unless the government is willing to provide adequate funds.”
He believed that safety is not the sole responsibility of MMDs users. “As a wheelchair user I am continually taking action to avoid a collision with people staring at their mobile phones, deaf to the environment due to headphones, or just concentrating on other things and not looking where they are going.”
He was also opposed to any weight limits for powered wheelchairs which he believed is unnecessary and would make mobility and independence impossible for a large section of the population with complex needs. Turnbull also expressed concern around licensing and registration, because it does not separate powered wheelchairs from mobility scooters. “These are two different categories and powered wheelchairs should absolutely not be required to be registered.”
Assistive Technology Suppliers Australia (ATSA) supported the principal recommendation of a nationally consistent regulatory framework that must be evidence-based, while recognising the importance of safety, of users and others. “However, this must not add any additional barriers or make access and inclusion any more difficult for a frequently marginalised section of our community,” ATSA executive officer, David Sinclair said.
However, the suggestion in the report that, “It is proposed that under the new arrangements it will be an offence to use a non-compliant motorised mobility device on public infrastructure” is of great concern to ATSA members. “Mobility is a basic human right and making it an offence to use certain devices in the absence of any evidence would be a fundamental infringement of that right,” he said.
In a statement Senator John Williams said the Senate report into the possible regulation of motor scooters would hopefully be the forerunner of a national standard for MMDs. Senator Williams launched the inquiry through the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee.