COTA Australia is pleased to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this Senate Inquiry, on an issue of importance to many older Australians – mobility scooters. Indeed, Scooters Australia claimed in 2009 that the overwhelming proportion of mobility scooter users are in the 70+ age group and in fact, in the previous few years, most purchasers were aged over 80.
While we recognise that mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs are equally important to many younger people with disability, as COTA’s constituency is older Australians and our focus is on ageing, we will confine our comments to the experience and needs of older people with limited mobility or a disability.
We note that the Senate Committee clarified its terminology during the course of the Inquiry, to treat motorised mobility scooters and motorised wheelchairs as separate vehicles, to be considered separately in its deliberations. COTA’s submission preparation focused primarily on motorised mobility scooters. Although wheelchairs have a different function to scooters, and their users may not have the ability to transfer from it without assistance, we believe that much of what we say regarding scooters is relevant to motorised wheelchairs.
COTA’s primary view is that mobility scooters bring independence and movement to many people who would otherwise have difficulty getting around in their communities to undertake simple tasks taken for granted by most people. The capacity to visit friends and family, shop, attend appointments and be part of community activities are crucial to quality of life and to enable older people to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible. Mobility scooters are also particularly important to older people in areas with limited public transport.
Older people want to be part of their communities. They want to get out and about, they want to stay fit and active and they want to keep up with friends and family, and with interests and volunteering, even if they start slowing down or are no longer able to drive.
We therefore should do all we can to make our community easy for pedestrians of all ages to use safely – and pedestrians now include those using mobility scooters, walking aids, pushers and prams, wheelchairs etc.
– Jane Mussared, Chief Executive, COTA SA
Equally, COTA views the safety of scooter users and all pedestrians, including older people on foot who may not always have the physical agility to avoid collision with mobility aids sharing the same pathways, as also crucially important.
To support this balance of needs, the COTAs in the States and Territories have a long history of involvement in community awareness, skills training and policy and regulatory development related to mobility scooters and we have drawn on that experience in this brief submission.
At a national level, COTA has also previously engaged with important investigations such as the ACCC’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 work on mobility scooter safety.
It is important to state at the outset that COTA’s experience leads us to the view that the issues around mobility scooters are most usefully considered in the broader frameworks of age-friendly cities, social inclusion and healthy ageing, rather than solely within a narrower regulatory context focused on safety concerns. Nonetheless, over the past several years COTA Australia has supported a degree of regulation of mobility scooter use, as an important component of a broader approach to the issue.