How to use your mobility scooter or power chair – safely
Print version: Keeping mobile (PDF, 742 KB)
A mobility scooter or power chair (electric wheelchair) can be your key to independence and freedom.
If you have limited mobility, or are unable or unwilling to drive a car, a mobility scooter or power chair is a great way to get you where you want to go safely – particularly if you’re just going to the local shops or anywhere that’s little too far away to walk.
If you currently use a mobility scooter or power chair or are considering using one in the future – this booklet is for you. It contains practical advice on your rights and responsibilities, as well as safety and maintenance tips.
If you’re using a power chair or mobility scooter for the first time, or if it’s been a while since you’ve ridden one outdoors, consider doing a training course. It’s a great way to make sure you know how to use your power chair or scooter safely.
To find out about training courses in your area; contact your local road safety coordinator (your local council can advise you who this is).
Know your legal responsibilities
Mobility scooters and power chairs are legally defined as ‘wheeled mobility devices’.
You don’t need a driver licence to operate a wheeled mobility device, nor are they required to have a warrant of fitness or registration. However, there are some important legal safety requirements that you need to know about.
- You must operate your mobility scooter or power chair in a careful and considerate manner.
- You must use the footpath when one is readily accessible, and stay close to the side of the road where a footpath is not readily accessible.
- When on the footpath, you mustn’t travel at a speed that endangers others.
- It’s illegal for you to ride, or let any person ride, in a way that may cause you or them injury.
- If you are involved in a crash, you must stop to see if anyone is injured and report the crash to the Police within 24 hours.
It’s important to be aware that careless use of a mobility scooter or power chair does carry legal implications. For example, operating a mobility device carelessly, inconsiderately or at a hazardous speed can result in you being fined $100 (or more if you are repeatedly found doing so).
If you cause a crash where someone is injured or killed, you could be convicted of careless or inconsiderate use of a vehicle, and face a fine of up to $4,500 or up to three month’s imprisonment.
For more information on your legal responsibilities:
- call 0800 699 000
- visit www.landtransport.govt.nz
- write to PO Box 2840, Wellington 6140.
Plan your route
Plan your route carefully.
- Work out the shortest and safest route – avoid busy roads, roundabouts and intersections where possible.
- Time your journey so you’ll be back before dark.
- Avoid times of the day when you know there’ll be heavy traffic.
- If you’re unsure whether a shopping complex or public area has suitable access, make enquiries before beginning your journey.
- Make sure the distance you want to travel is within the range of your scooter or power chair.
Ready to ride?
- You shouldn’t use your power chair or mobility scooter if you’re under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication that may affect your driving ability. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor or chemist.
- Take a suitable carry bag – don’t carry objects loose in your lap.
- Ensure that the battery is fully charged.
- Know who to call if something goes wrong with your scooter or power chair.
Tips for a safe journey
As a general rule, you should behave in the same way as a pedestrian – if a footpath is readily accessible, you must use it.
- Don’t drive up or down steep slopes.
- Never put your power chair or mobility scooter in neutral (or leave it out of gear) when on a slope.
- Take particular care when turning and slow down when turning on sharp corners or slopes.
- Be careful when driving on uneven surfaces.
- Approach kerbs head-on rather than on an angle.
- Don’t let another person stand or sit on your power chair or scooter while you’re using it.
- Adjust your speed to the conditions.
- If you’re traveling slowly, it’s courteous to stay on one side of the footpath to allow others to get past you. Show particular consideration for the elderly or those who may have a vision or hearing impairment.
- Don’t travel faster than surrounding pedestrians, particularly if they are unable to move out of the way easily (e.g., on a crowded footpath or at a concert venue).
- If you stop to talk to someone, turn off the key or take your hand off the power control.
See and be seen
- Remember that drivers may find it hard to see you, because you’re nearer to the ground than a motor vehicle or pedestrian. If possible, fit a flag to your power chair or scooter at a height of at least a metre off the ground to make you more visible. Brightly coloured clothes can also increase visibility.
- If you have glasses for long-distance vision or bifocals, make sure you wear them.
- Fitting a rear-vision mirror can help you see hazards coming up behind you.
- Always check over your shoulder when changing direction.
- Always listen and watch for vehicles coming out of driveways. If in doubt, wait until you’re sure the way is clear.
- Some scooters have indicators – if you have them, use them so that other road users are aware of your intentions.
Cross with care
- Try to cross a road at a pedestrian crossing or at an intersection with Stop or Give Way signs. Where this is not possible, take particular care and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
- Always check very carefully that the way is clear before crossing the road.
- Use the shortest possible path across the road.
- Never cross where you can’t see the oncoming traffic (e.g., on a hill, at a curve in the road, or where parked cars are obstructing your view).
- Never cross without first looking across to check that you will be able to get back onto the footpath on the other side. Avoid traveling over kerbs.
- Take particular care at intersections and roundabouts – cross as a pedestrian would, from footpath to footpath. If the intersection or roundabout is very busy, consider taking an alternative route.
Beware of interference
- Radio wave sources, such as radio and TV stations, amateur radio transmitters, two-way radios and cell phones, may affect the operation of power chairs and motorised scooters.
- Don’t operate hand-held personal communication devices, such as cell phones, while your power chair or scooter is switched on.
- Avoid going near radio or television transmitters and people who are using cell phones.
Take your hand off the power control and remove the key before getting off your scooter or power chair. Remember to take the key with you when you are leaving it unattended. If possible, park in a sheltered area.
Don’t leave your power chair or scooter unattended if it is parked in the way of other pedestrians.
Tips for riding on the road
The law says that you must use the footpath if it is readily accessible. However, where you must use the road, keep to the following guidelines to ensure your safety.
- Always travel on the left-hand side of the road and as close to the edge of the road as possible.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals, and give way to pedestrians who are crossing. Look out for children, because they often lack the skills and experience to negotiate traffic safely.
- Be aware that your power chair or mobility scooter is not as powerful or as conspicuous as other vehicles on the road.
- Watch out for obstructions in the road ahead, such as drains, potholes and parked cars. When passing parked cars, watch out for doors being opened in your path, or a vehicle moving off without indicating.
- If you have indicators, use them. If not, use hand signals. Try not to startle pedestrians if you use a warning device (e.g., a horn).
- If you need to go on the road regularly, consider getting your scooter or power chair fitted with indicators, lights, a horn, reversing beepers, warning flags and rear-vision mirrors.
Using public transport
Some taxi companies are able to carry you and your power chair or scooter to your chosen destination. Check before booking.
Some trains and train stations are more accessible to power chairs and mobility scooters than others. There may be limitations on the services you can use, times of day you can travel and the kind of assistance staff are able to provide. There may also be special conditions relating to the size and agility of the scooter or power chair (and your ability to operate it in tight spaces!). Once again, it pays to phone ahead to check before beginning your journey.
What to do if the going gets tough
If you have periods of confusion when riding on your scooter or power chair, have problems with vision that mean you don’t notice things that you should, or you start forgetting where you are going, you must stop using the scooter or power chair.
You should then seek advice from a medical practitioner before using your scooter or power chair again.
If you are advised not to continue using your scooter or power chair, your nearest Age Concern office may be able to assist with organising alternative transport.
Land Transport New Zealand’s keeping moving booklet contains more information on alternative transport schemes. Please call 0800 822 422 or write to PO Box 2840, Wellington 6140 for your free copy. Keeping moving can also be viewed online at www.landtransport.govt.nz/licensing/older/ keeping-moving.html.
How to care for your scooter or power chair
At the end of each day that your scooter or power chair has been used, recharge it for 12 hours continuously (overnight), to maximise battery life.
Going on holiday?
If you’re not going to use your scooter or power chair for more than one month, ensure the batteries are fully charged, and arrange for someone to recharge them once a fortnight.
It is recommended that a routine maintenance check be carried out every six months by a qualified service technician.
With moderate use (up to 15 hours per week) and if correctly charged, batteries should last 12 to 18 months. If your device uses ‘wet type’ batteries, you’ll need to check your battery acid level every two weeks.
Check your tyre pressure at your local garage every three months – under-inflated tyres are more likely to get punctures.
If possible, have somewhere secure to store your scooter, such as a garage, where it won’t be stolen or exposed to the weather.
- Plan your route.
- Make sure you can see and be seen.
- Stick to the footpath where you can.
- Be courteous to others.
Follow these simple rules and you should enjoy trouble-free years with your scooter or power chair!
Thanks and acknowledgements
Land Transport New Zealand thanks Neil Hatcher and Patricia T Kerei of Age Concern, Flaxmere for their work in compiling the original brochure on which this is based.
Acknowledgements also to RoadSafe Hawkes Bay
The material in this booklet is given as advice on good practice on the use and care of mobility scooters and power chairs. Land Transport New Zealand has endeavoured to ensure the material in this document is technically accurate and reflects such limited legal requirements as exist. However, the document does not override governing legislation. Land Transport New Zealand does not accept liability for any consequences arising from the use of this document. If the user of this document is unsure whether the material is correct, they should make direct reference to the relevant legislation and contact Land Transport New Zealand.
This publication is copyright © Land Transport New Zealand. Material in it may be reproduced for personal or in-house use without formal permission or charge, provided suitable acknowledgement is made to this publication and Land Transport New Zealand as the source. Requests and enquiries about the reproduction of material in this publication for any other purpose should be made to the Manager, Information, Land Transport New Zealand, PO Box 2840, Wellington 6140
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