Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 20 March 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Does 10km/h make you a speed freak? A crusading politician says it does when you are travelling on a footpath.
The humble mobility scooter spells freedom for the elderly and people with disabilities. But it is also at the centre of an unlikely new battle, with Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams backing new speed limits for the vehicles.
The NSW National wants tougher regulations after his wife, Nancy Capel, was hit by a speeding “gopher” last year and forced to have a hip operation.
But for Barbara Lund, an 89-year old resident of an aged-care facility in Canberra’s Red Hill, her mobility scooter represents a lifeline, offering independence she would be otherwise denied.
Ms Lund has been using the vehicle for four years, mainly to get to the shops, and believes it is a godsend for the elderly and people with disabilities.
“Mostly I value the independence. I had to give up my car and I miss that terribly,” Ms Lund said.
What is now a multi-billion dollar industry began in 1968 in a Michigan garage. To help a family member with multiple sclerosis, plumber Alan R. Thieme spent countless evenings developing a motorised cart. The result was the Amigo, which travelled at 5-6km/h.
And that is as fast as they should be allowed to go, according to Senator Williams, who at the Nationals federal conference in Canberra this weekend will ask colleagues to back a proposal for a 6km/h speed limit. He also wants a ban on scooters weighing more than 150 kilograms.
Currently, mobility scooters in Australia have a compulsory top speed of 10km/h, lower than the 12km/h limit imposed in Britain, and they come with a switch that can reduce their maximum speed in high-traffic pedestrian areas.
In most Australian states and territories, mobility scooter users do not require a licence, registration or third party insurance. But dozens of injuries and even deaths have been linked to the personal vehicles over recent years.
“They are a tremendous assistance for those who are frail or immobile, but we have got to have safe footpaths as well,” Senator Williams said.
“Here’s the problem. Someone elderly fails their licence test because they are viewed as a dangerous driver. They surrender their car. They go and buy a mobility scooter. You’re a danger to the public if you drive a car down a road but you’re not a danger if you drive a scooter down a footpath?”
But his latest campaign – which follows a push for on-the-spot fines and registration schemes – has been met with fierce opposition from one leading Australian scooter business.
“Nationals senator John Williams makes claims he knows nothing about if … his attitudes to mobility scooters is anything to go by,” Peter Fraser, the managing director of Scooters Australia, said.
Mr Fraser blasted the senator’s claims about mobility scooter standards overseas as “complete rubbish”.
“Just because Senator Williams’ wife was injured in a mobility scooter accident is no reason to change the law to suit one politician,” Mr Fraser said.
Senator Williams was scathing of that view.
“All I know is I don’t want what happened to my wife happening to anyone else,” he said.
Ms Lund did not see the need for more rules, saying people are already told not to carry passengers or go on roads.
“Provided people stick to the rules, I can’t see there’s any danger at all.”
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