How many of the people driving mobility scooters these days actually need a mobility scooter? The invention of the vehicle was a great move forward (literally) for those who genuinely needed it: the disabled and the infirm. But then another group of users appeared. Rather slowly, admittedly, and wheezing as they did so, before settling their vast backsides into the soothing embrace of the scooter’s seat. Once there they sighed happily, popped another Kit Kat into their gob and contemplated a life where movement from A to B required a mere flick of the wrist, rather than all that tedious leg business.
This supersized scooter squadron has conquered Britain with an ease that the Romans in their chariots could only have dreamed of. I passed a pub in Llanelli recently which offered a ‘Mobility Parking Valet Service’. The Speccie’s Marcus Berkmann relates a visit to Ramsgate where he witnessed so many people driving mobility scooters that ‘some of them must have been injured by people driving mobility scooters’. At least that would mean they were properly in need. I once saw a scooter being driven in Felixstowe with a set of golf clubs on the back.
Anyone who has braved the pavements of their local town or city lately will know the terror that scooters can bring. Many drivers exhibit the same disregard for other people that they show for their own cholesterol levels. Shoppers scatter and toddlers are yanked away as the Porker Porsches come careering through.
If you want evidence of the way these people view their scooters, look at the names of the different models: there’s the Vegas, for instance, and the Rascal. There’s also the Supersport, known lovingly to its owners as the Harley. The industry even has its own annual show at the Birmingham NEC, rather like the Geneva Motor Show but presumably with fewer models in bikinis and more burger stands.
Last year saw 40 reported cases of people being injured by mobility scooters, nine of them seriously, though the true picture must be far worse: only a minority of police forces collect figures, and most victims don’t bother calling the cops in the first place. There have even been fatalities, including a 90-year-old woman killed on the Isle of Wight in 2009. But because scooters are classed as medical devices rather than vehicles, their drivers’ collars remain unfelt. When a toddler was knocked over in Doncaster, the police confessed to her mother that ‘they’d had the old lady in the back of the police car and all they could do really was give her a verbal warning type thing’.
This would change if Labour MP Alison Seabeck got her way — she has called for tighter regulation, having seen the havoc scooters can wreak. She once witnessed a woman ‘leap out of her mobility vehicle, rush into the shops, come back with heavy bags and spring back into it’.
In the absence of a driving test or compulsory insurance, we can at least be thankful that the very worst scooter drivers are taking themselves off the road, or rather onto it — tales of them ending up on the motorway by mistake regularly make the news. I witnessed one idiot who’d found his way (God knows how) onto a major roundabout: whichever exit he took it was going to mean a busy B-road at best, the M25 at worst. A kindly lorry driver had pulled up to shield him from the traffic while they worked out what to do. Meanwhile the pedestrians of nearby towns could enjoy a few hours’ peace.
These, however, are only the immediate problems. The real danger lies in the future, when the scooter epidemic reaches critical mass (an apt phrase). A couple of generations down the line waits a Britain where nobody ever learns to walk at all. We’ll pass straight from baby buggy to mobility scooter with no intervening phase, stairlifts transporting us at home and moving walkways doing the job in public. Shanks’s pony will have been stabled forever, and as in the plot of some terrifying Will Self novel our legs will atrophy completely, bred out of existence through disuse.
Only if we act now can we save the country from this hideous fate. Let us rise up, and make these bogus scooter users rise up.