House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
MR GREG LEWIS, MR DAI POWELL OBE and MR RICHARD BOYD
PHILLIPA HUNT, MS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Transport Committee
Mrs Louise Ellman, in the Chair
Mr David Clelland
Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson
Mr Philip Hollobone
Mr John Leech
Ms Angela C Smith
Sir Peter Soulsby
Witnesses: Mr Greg Lewis, Programme Manager, Help the Aged/Age Concern, Mr Dai Powell OBE, Chair of DPTAC, Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and Mr Richard Boyd, Chief Executive, Disability Essex, gave evidence.
Chairman: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Do Members have any interests to declare?
Mr Clelland: Member of Unite.
Graham Stringer: Member of Unite.
Q1 Chairman: Louise Ellman, member of Unite. Could I ask the witnesses to identify themselves, please, by name and organisation?
Mr Lewis: My name is Greg Lewis. I am representing Help the Aged and Age Concern.
Mr Powell: I am Dai Powell representing DPTAC.
Mr Boyd: I am Richard Boyd from Disability Essex, representing Disability East.
Q2 Chairman: From the written evidence you have all submitted to us, there seems to be some difference of view on how big a problem this is. I should like to ask you whether you see this issue of mobility scooters as a big problem and, if so, where you see the main areas of concern. Mr Lewis, could you give us an idea? In your written evidence you have suggested that it is not much of a problem. Is that right?
Mr Lewis: The main problem, as I set out in the written evidence from Help the Aged and Age Concern, is that there is insufficient evidence about the problems caused by mobility scooters. We are aware of anecdotal evidence and obviously there has been press coverage, some of it quite negative, about mobility scooters and the potential problems they can cause. The charity has not received and does not receive significant calls or enquiries about the use or misuse of mobility scooters. One of the things we would like to see is more information gathered centrally about accidents or possible problems with mobility scooters.
Q3 Chairman: Mr Powell, in your written evidence you say that our examination today is timely. What are the key areas of concern that you have identified?
Mr Powell: It is timely because mobility scooters are on the increase and are going to carry on increasing and they meet the policy agenda of a lot of what is coming from all sides of the House: the personalisation agenda, the green agenda, the economic agenda all point towards more and more use of mobility scooters. The difficulty is at the moment there is no evidence to say whether there are issues or not, even on the issue you are looking at currently. We have not seen very good clear evidence to say there is a problem. We have heard stories but that is as far as it goes.
Q4 Chairman: The number of users is growing. Is that in any particular part of the country?
Mr Powell: As far as we understand it, it is growing across the country and is going to carry on growing. It is growing at a rapid rate, which is a good thing; we are very pleased that it is growing. It has huge benefits. What we need to do is understand it more and understand whether there are real issues. What we do not want to do is put in some form of legislation which actually stops people using mobility scooters.
Q5 Chairman: So your concern is to make sure that people can still use the scooters. Even if problems are identified, that is your main concern.
Mr Powell: Yes, definitely.
Q6 Chairman: Mr Boyd, what can you tell us about how you see the extent of the problem as it is now?
Mr Boyd: In the 2005 report it was estimated that there were 90,000 scooters in use. I would say that the evidence you have just heard is right and it is probably over 100,000 now. We run a helpline, along with a lot of other charities, Disability Information, and I have checked with the six counties that we support and in the last 12 months we have received about 18 phone calls from aggrieved people who have been struck by scooters or have had their parked cars struck by scooters or have, in fact, been hit by scooters when they are in shopping precincts and supermarkets, asking where they can obtain legal redress or to whom they should complain. I perceive the problem to be not dissimilar from the knock-for-knock you get on a car, where the incident occurs, is known to the parties concerned and goes no further. It is just a subterranean problem. The evidence you hear is right. When it comes up in the Daily Mail or the provincial press that somebody has been killed or injured it becomes of acute interest for about 24 hours. What I found particularly depressing in the 2004 research by the Department for Transport was that their desktop research had shown that there had been four deaths involving scooters in the previous 12 months in England and Wales, yet in that same 12 months four people had died in the County of Essex alone and I believe that the figures are grossly under-reported.
Stringer: Four people died in
Mr Boyd: Were killed by scooters in one county in one year.
Q8 Chairman: In one county.
Mr Boyd: In one county.
Q9 Chairman: So you are suggesting that there is a much bigger problem.
Mr Boyd: In my evidence I did point out that the statistics for deaths and injuries with scooters reside in a variety of places: the police, at coroner's offices, at Trading Standards and goodness knows where. There seems to be no central control or recognition within the police authorities as to what constitutes an accident with or involving a mobility scooter. Just take Essex as an individual example: one lady fell off her scooter coming out, she had borrowed the scooter in Chelmsford and come out onto a pedestrian platform and fallen sideways and was killed by the scooter; another at Clacton where the lady was taking her dog for a walk along the seafront, the dog pulled the scooter over, it fell on her and killed her; one in Wickford near Southend where a gentleman was actually blind and was driving a scooter across the main road and was hit by a bus. So it went on.
Q10 Chairman: So you are seeing a bigger problem than the one clearly identified; the one we have been hearing about.
Mr Boyd: The analogy is knock-for-knock.
Q11 Mr Clelland: So you believe that the current legislation regarding the use of these scooters is not clear and is not adequate.
Mr Boyd: Of course it is not clear. We have a Class III scooter at Rochford station available for visitors to our centre. We have taxed it and it is insured and it has a registration number, which is the law. I defy you to tell me the last time you saw a Class III mobility scooter with a number plate, tax disc or insurance certificate on it. That is the law of the land but it is just not administered and nobody cares or knows about it.
Q12 Mr Clelland: Do the police have enough powers to stop people who are using these scooters from using them in this manner?
Mr Boyd: The powers are there. We had the classic case two years ago in Harlow of a drunk coming out of a pub on a Class III motor scooter, considered himself too drunk to drive on the road so he drove on the pavement, fell off the pavement into a ditch, the scooter fell on him. He rang the police on his mobile, the police attended, pulled the scooter off him, charged him with drunken driving and there was no case to answer because he did not have a licence.
Q13 Mr Clelland: So should existing road traffic legislation apply to mobility scooters when they are used on the road?
Mr Boyd: Yes, it should.
Q14 Mr Clelland: That implies therefore, presumably, a degree of training, even perhaps having to have some sort of driving licence for these scooters. Is that correct?
Mr Boyd: We suggested a permit to drive. At the moment I could go and borrow a scooter from Sainsbury's and go straight into Sainsbury's and drive it. We suggested a permit to drive. We suggested it should be an inducement that the voluntary sector did the permit to drive, just like the Cycling Proficiency Test, that RoSPA should be the defining standard setter. It could be provided by the voluntary sector and insurance could be discounted if you have the permit to drive. So there was an inducement to take a quality test. What I find particularly interesting is this statement by the Minister, which I received on 22 February, last week, that the Government want to see access to cycle training for every child. A scooter with a 15-stone man on it weighs double that and it goes at eight miles an hour. If that hits you, you will notice it. Why do we not have the same rules for children on cycles applying to people on mobility scooters? We do not want to discourage people from using scooters. We want to encourage them, but we want to protect them and other people from being hit by them.
Q15 Chairman: Mr Lewis, how do you react to that? If your concern is that we do not stop people from using scooters when they need them, would a requirement for training stop people using scooters when they need to have them?
Mr Lewis: Two points. One is the enforcement issue, which has been very well outlined by Mr Boyd, and we certainly do not believe that additional legislation should be introduced for the use of these vehicles because we think the existing legislation is sufficient. However, there may well be an enforcement issue; we would accept that. On the second point, we believe opportunities should be provided to the users of these vehicles to take a proficiency test but on a voluntary basis. We do not believe that it should be enforced, any more than at this time cycling proficiency is enforced. Certainly we would argue that there are potentially more risks and hazards from the use of cycles, particularly on pedestrian walkways, than there are from mobility scooters, bearing in mind the speed that some cyclists can attain on pedestrian walkways which makes them at least an equal hazard to pedestrians. Certainly Mr Boyd's evidence points to the fact that a number of these injuries - and I would suggest the vast majority - are to the users of mobility scooters rather than to other users.
Mr Powell: From where we come in, we do not want to put any more barriers up. There is an enforcement issue, we can accept that, and that needs to be dealt with separately. There could be a licensing issue, whereas we could get more information or evidence if we knew exactly what was out there. We would be supportive of that approach. We would not be supportive of compulsory training because what you are going to do is limit the number of people who could use a mobility scooter and we just do not think on an equality agenda that is a good idea.
Q16 Graham Stringer: Do you think it is okay for blind people to drive scooters?
Mr Powell: No.
Q17 Graham Stringer: How then do you stop them?
Mr Powell: You would not want a blind person to drive a scooter or a bike or anything else. It is unfortunate that happens. What is the evidence that has happened more than once?
Q18 Graham Stringer: I do not know; we will try to find that out. That is a good point. The problem with it being voluntary - and that is just an example that has been given to us this afternoon - is that there are some extreme cases where people clearly are not competent to drive these potentially dangerous machines. I would ask you again. When people clearly are unfit to drive because they are blind, which is just a very good example, what mechanism would you have for prohibiting them then?
Mr Powell: I would go back to whether we have the evidence that is an issue or is it just a one-off issue? If it is an issue, then there are regulations out there about acting dangerously; you are in charge of something for which you are unfit. It is the same with drink, if a person actually can still be prosecuted for being drunk if they are in charge of a mobility scooter because they are drunk, they could be charged for being a nuisance, as being drunk. They cannot have their licence taken away from them, I agree, but if anyone causes a nuisance because they are drunk, there are laws which deal with that. If we start putting legislation in that actually says you have to go through all the hoops before you can use a mobility scooter, then we will get less and less people using them, there will be more cost to the state, less independence for individuals.
Q19 Chairman: Are not something like eyesight standards highly relevant to being in charge of a vehicle, even a vehicle of this nature?
Mr Powell: Yes. Yes, that is right.
Q20 Chairman: You do accept that.
Mr Powell: I would accept it on eyesight; I would accept some other things. I would not accept that overall everyone should have to go through a training regime before they could drive one.
Q21 Mr Clelland: Should manufacturers be involved more in limiting the speed these scooters can go at? At the moment it is eight miles an hour. You would not like to be hit by something going eight miles an hour and that sort of weight. Should they be restricted to walking pace, for instance?
Mr Lewis: Mobility scooters Class II are restricted currently to four miles an hour because they are used on pavements.
Q22 Mr Clelland: Physically restricted? They cannot go more than four miles an hour?
Mr Lewis: They are limited to four miles an hour. There is some evidence that they can be delimited. I have no further information about that. I am sure it is possible. I would go back to the point I made earlier that cyclists can achieve significantly higher speeds than that. Class III mobility scooters travel at eight miles an hour because they are designed to travel on the highway. I would again suggest that eight miles an hour is not a significant speed to be attained by such a vehicle in those circumstances, but Help the Aged and Age Concern are not arguing for an increase in speeds. You do make a very good point about the way that these vehicles are sold to individuals and we support the code of practice of the British Healthcare Trades Association and we believe it is the point of sale that is most important here because this is where adequate training can be given to prospective users of these vehicles. Certainly if somebody came in and was demonstrably blind or had significant eyesight difficulties, that would be something that could be addressed at the point of sale. The sale of insurance could be addressed at the point of sale. This is probably where this code of practice needs to be enforced by retailers. Having said all that, I do accept that one of the problems is the sale of second-hand scooters where this sort of assessment of a user cannot be carried out in the same way.
Q23 Mr Clelland: Should users be required to wear protective clothing, such as helmets?
Mr Lewis: Cyclists are not required to at this time although, as a cyclist myself, I wear one all the time and I know most of my cycling friends and colleagues do. I would not suggest that protective clothing is a necessity but, again, it comes back probably to getting proper statistics about the level and types of injuries. I do not think you can say what type of protective clothing would be suitable unless we know what types of injuries are caused when accidents happen involving these scooters.
Q24 Mr Leech: Following on from that, are there any statistics on the kind of injuries that people are sustaining? Is there evidence that people who have died driving a scooter have sustained head injuries that would have been avoided in the event of using a helmet?
Mr Lewis: I am not aware of any evidence.
Mr Boyd: There are no centrally controlled statistics.
Mr Powell: The big thing is that there is a lack of evidence on the whole issue.
Q25 Mr Leech: As far as I am aware, all people who end up using a motorised wheelchair are given training on how to use the motorised wheelchair. Why should a scooter be any different?
Mr Boyd: I share that view. There are two issues. One is the British Healthcare Trades
Association runs a very good code of practice, but in our view they actually
sell the minority of scooters. The
lifespan of a scooter as a mechanical item is about 15 years. We have been recycling scooters for three
years and most of those that we get are between five and six years old and
probably on a second owner. The lifespan
of the user is less than the scooter.
The second thing that worries us is that there are no mechanical checks
or lighting checks, brake checks or steering checks on the scooters when they
are sold second-hand. You can buy them
at any car boot sale, you can import them now flat packed from the
Q26 Chairman: How do you think that should be addressed, if at all? Should there be some requirement upon the seller or the purchaser?
Mr Boyd: I do not know; I do not have
an answer. All I say is that we have
been given scooters, usually by relatives of the owner who has died, and we
recycle about 25 back into use of about 35 we get a year; we scrap ten a
year. We have had them in the most
amazing states of disrepair and they have recently been used. Your answer as to how you govern the speed is
by a switch. How do you raise the
speed? You take the batteries from
parallel to series and you double the speed and you will find 14-year-old boys
have already worked that one out. How
you control the sale of the second-hand industry, I do not know. How you control the quality of the product,
because it can be lethal, there is no argument about that, what defies my logic is that I spent 30 years
in aircraft engineering and if I told you your chances of being killed on a
flight were one in 100, none of you would get on a plane. Yet if you look at the death rate in
Q27 Mr Leech: Do all three of you agree that scooters should be allowed both on the pavement and the road?
Mr Lewis: Yes.
Mr Powell: Yes.
Mr Boyd: Yes.
Q28 Mr Leech: Might there be a case to suggest that they should not be allowed to go more than walking pace?
Mr Powell: If the evidence were there to suggest that the speed of scooters on the pavement has caused a significant number of accidents, then we could look at that. I go back to the original point that on all the issues, including on the sale of second-hand scooters, we just do not have the evidence of what is really happening. There is a huge number of scooters, it is growing all the time and is going to carry on growing, yet we do not have the information about what is needed to make it safe both for the pedestrians, other road users and for the users of mobility scooters themselves.
Mr Lewis: There is no evidence that the current speed limits are leading to death or injury; that is not the problem. It may well be down to an issue of training and Help the Aged and Age Concern are very keen to see voluntary training and proficiency take place for the users of these vehicles, but I would not suggest that the current speed limits themselves are causing death or injury, not if there are cycles and other types of wheeled vehicles capable of much higher speeds.
Mr Boyd: It is not speed related. The accidents we have analysed in the East of England have been predominantly steering: steered into a ditch, steered off a kerb or steered down stairs or misjudged the speed of an oncoming vehicle in attempting to cross the road.
Q29 Mr Leech: I should like to move on to a slightly different issue now and that is the carriage of scooters on public transport. My understanding is that there are weight restrictions on mobility scooters but not size restrictions. Is there an argument to suggest that there should be a size restriction so that we could then have legislation to ensure that scooters could be carried on public transport?
Mr Powell: DPTAC has been doing a lot of work with the transport operators over the last few years to see how we can enable the transport operators to carry mobility scooters. There is an argument actually that if there is a defined size and weight of a mobility scooter that could then, through legislation, be used on public transport and that could be marked as such, that would be a huge advantage for a lot of disabled people. It goes down to the point of sale again, so people actually selling mobility scooters would need to be very honest and understand that it is not always the biggest and most expensive that is the best for a person to have.
Mr Boyd: I defer to DPTAC.
Q30 Mr Leech: Nobody would try to restrict a wheelchair user from getting on a tram or a train or a bus but people driving the smallest scooters are refused on some public transport. Is that fair?
Mr Boyd: No.
Mr Powell: No.
Mr Lewis: No and it does come down to intelligent design. Part of my journey here this afternoon was on a tram and a mobility scooter got onto the tram with no difficulty at all. That is the way the tram stop had been designed and the inner space of the tram had been designed. It was clearly adaptable to those types of users. As a charity we would support intelligent design of vehicles, both mobility scooters and public transport vehicles, to ensure that they can interact in that way.
Q31 Chairman: How often is there a problem of the scooters getting on a bus?
Mr Powell: An awful lot. Most public transport operators on the bus network would not allow mobility scooters on their vehicles. That is perfectly legal; they do not have to. One of the major five operators has been doing a lot of work with DPTAC on how this can be overcome, but it is still a major problem and it is a major problem from various angles of intelligent design, of where you position a mobility scooter, because their structure is completely different to a wheelchair.
Q32 Chairman: Is this a growing problem?
Mr Powell: Yes and it will carry on growing. It is about the overall evidence. Personally I think the work you are looking at needs to cover a wide area because it is a form of mobility that is fantastic for so many people. We do not have the evidence to say what the best policy is. The personalisation agenda is really going to look at how people can actually stay mobile longer. Rather than rely on the state or sending out for meals-on-wheels they can go out and get their own food. It is going to grow.
Mr Boyd: There is a growing use of the small scooters which fold up and go in the back of a car. They are marvellous; they are a boon. They should be allowed on public transport because they are not much heavier than an electric wheelchair as a device. What you get, as in all things, is the very large scooters, the Class III ones, and you get somebody who thinks they should put a vehicle in a vehicle; that is just silly.
Q33 Mr Leech: You appear to be arguing - or Mr Lewis and Mr Powell appear to be arguing - that by not over-regulating mobility scooters we therefore avoid people being restricted from using them. Are we not restricting the sensible and reasonable use of scooters, whether on public transport or otherwise, by not having regulations which ensure the use of scooters comes under current disability legislation?
Mr Powell: I agree with that. I agree with that quite strongly. What we have been asked to comment on is actually not that. What we have been asked to comment on is how to regulate and therefore reduce the use of mobility scooters on pavements or on the highway, not on vehicles. I think we should open it much wider and we are very happy to look at a design of a mobility scooter or a size or a regulation.
Q34 Chairman: We are inquiring into this issue so any relevant points you can put to us we are very interested to hear whatever you might say, whatever questions were put in the brief.
Mr Powell: I am just telling you we will respond, but it is a bigger issue and it is a positive issue.
Q35 Mr Hollobone: Are any of you aware of any other countries around the world who do mobility scooters well and who have tackled these issues sensibly which we might copy?
Mr Boyd: The City of
Q36 Mr Hollobone: What do these two cities do that we should be doing?
Mr Boyd: They are very holistic. In
Mr Powell: We do not have any evidence from elsewhere on where it works really well.
Q37 Chairman: This morning, by coincidence, the Department for Transport issued a consultation document about mobility scooters. Could you tell me whether any of you were involved in getting the consultation together and whether there are any specific things you are looking for in that?
Mr Boyd: No. We got involved in 2004-05, but I was not aware of today's announcement until I was phoned yesterday.
Q38 Chairman: So yesterday was the first you had heard of it.
Mr Boyd: Yes. My view of the Department for Transport is that their view of circular motion is the Great Round Tuit(?).
Q39 Chairman: Mr Powell, was your organisation involved in setting up the consultation?
Mr Powell: We did have a sight of it in a very, very short period; not long enough to go through a consultation.
Q40 Chairman: Mr Lewis, were you involved?
Mr Lewis: No, I was not aware of it. The first I heard of it was when the Clerk spoke to me yesterday and told me about it.
Q41 Chairman: Can you tell me whether you think that third party insurance should be compulsory for scooters?
Mr Boyd: Yes.
Mr Powell: Yes.
Mr Lewis: No, Help the Aged and Age Concern do not support the compulsory levying of third party insurance. We do think though, as we put in our evidence, that third party insurance should be offered at the point of sale.
Q42 Mr Leech: If you think third party insurance should be compulsory, should it be compulsory for motorised wheelchair users as well?
Mr Boyd: Yes. You are protecting the user not just the victim. The users are often sued, remember. You are protecting everybody and it is pennies. Your household insurance covers your electric scooter and your electric wheelchair against theft, if you declare it on your policy. There are insurance policies for scooters and electric wheelchairs for around about £25 a year - 50 pence a week for goodness' sake. It is two cigarettes.
Q43 Chairman: So your answer is yes.
Mr Boyd: Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much gentlemen for coming and answering our questions.
Witnesses: Superintendent Jim Smerdon and Ms Penny Carpenter, Crime Prevention Officer, Norfolk Constabulary, Mr Neil Scales, Chief Executive, Merseytravel, Mr Kevin Clinton, Head of Road Safety, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and Mr Ken Mackay, Director of Rail Infrastructure, gave evidence.
Q44 Chairman: Good afternoon. Could I ask our witnesses to identify themselves by name and organisation for our record, please?
Mr Mackay: Ken Mackay, Director of Rail Infrastructure at Nexus, which is the Tyne-and-Wear Passenger Transport Executive.
Mr Scales: Neil Scales, Chief Executive of Merseytravel.
Mr Clinton: Kevin Clinton, Head of Road Safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Smerdon: Superintendent Jim Smerdon from Great
Ms Carpenter: Penny Carpenter from Great
Q45 Chairman: Superintendent Smerdon, could you tell us something about the scheme you operate and why you started the scheme?
Superintendent Smerdon: I will probably defer to Penny because it is her scheme, but certainly from the policing point of view it has given us an opportunity to identify vulnerable people in our community and get them involved in our Safer Neighbourhood Teams. We have highlighted that they are not only vulnerable in the community generally but they are vulnerable on their mobility scooters, hence Penny and our small team of officers have put together the awareness scheme.
Q46 Chairman: Ms Carpenter, could I ask you more about the scheme. What do you feel it has achieved?
Ms Carpenter: We have run two safety awareness courses for mobility scooter users in the Great Yarmouth area. What we wanted to do was to give people confidence to use their scooters. We held our courses indoors so they were somewhat controlled but based loosely on the cycle proficiency courses that Norfolk County Council runs. What did we achieve? I think we gave the user more confidence. It also highlighted some of the lack of upper body mobility to complete the course. It also highlighted eyesight problems as well. We did offer the use of the Keystone vision tester as a guide, if people felt they needed their eyes tested, but the course itself was mainly to encourage the user to be able to use a mobility scooter in a safe and appropriate manner with speed control.
Q47 Chairman: When you say it highlighted eyesight problems, what do you mean by that?
Ms Carpenter: In our two courses we have had people with double cataracts and they were using eight miles an hour scooters.
Q48 Chairman: Did this make them stop using the scooters?
Ms Carpenter: One lady who came along had a double cataract and she had already gone through a plate glass window in a shop in Galston. She was waiting for an operation but she was still using her scooter.
Q49 Chairman: As a proficiency scheme, what advice did you give on that?
Ms Carpenter: My colleagues spoke with her and we asked when she was due to have the cataract operation and she did tell us when it was going to happen. Our advice was perhaps to be careful when she was using it. I have no power to take a scooter away from somebody because it is their independence which is something that is very important.
Q50 Mr Leech: You said in your evidence that more than 50 people have done this voluntary course. Our previous witnesses explained that we do not have enough knowledge about people's ability to drive scooters or otherwise. Roughly, of those 50-odd people who have taken the course, how many, prior to taking the course, would you say were actually proficient in using their scooters and were safe to be using them?
Ms Carpenter: I would say the majority of them were fairly competent and safe in using their scooters, but others who did come along quite clearly lacked confidence in using their scooter or something had happened to them whilst they were on their scooter and sapped their confidence. They were brought along by their carers or by their families to take part in the course just to give them a bit more confidence in using the machine.
Q51 Mr Leech: Given your experience of seeing what impact your course has had on their ability to use the scooters, do you think there is a justifiable argument for having some sort of compulsory training?
Ms Carpenter: Our training was free, so it was up to the individual to come along, and we felt that if you have a compulsory training it does put people under pressure where they perhaps do not need that sort of pressure. Our course was completely free and we were amazed at the number of people who turned up. They all wanted to come along to see for themselves how we would be running our courses. There is a very difficult defining line there between people who have perhaps driven before and are used to going on the road and those individuals who have never driven a vehicle on the highway - never. They go and buy themselves one of these, an eight miles an hour one, and off they go without any knowledge, any road sense, without any spatial awareness or traffic sense and they are out in traffic.
Q52 Mr Leech: You talked about one of the people waiting for a double cataract operation. How many of those 50 people physically were probably not fit enough to be using a scooter?
Ms Carpenter: I would say that the majority of them were fit enough but the upper body mobility strength is something quite important when you are actually controlling your scooter or being able to look to your left, to look to your right and also when reversing. Reversing is a huge problem because if you do not have that mobility in your neck there lies a problem. On the Class III you have very small wing mirrors; you have some on the Class IIs but they are put on by the individual. Once you start to reverse and you are turning your scooter, you have then lost sight in your wing mirrors. You do need to be able to look behind you.
Q53 Mr Leech: Is there a case to say that wing mirrors, regardless of the class, should become compulsory?
Ms Carpenter: Yes, definitely.
Q54 Mr Clelland: I know the answer to this but perhaps Mr Mackay could enlighten the rest of the Committee on why Tyne-and-Wear banned mobility scooters from the Metro system in 2008.
Mr Mackay: I appreciate that because of the short notice we have not given any written evidence, so if you want me to expand on any points, please feel free to ask. Perhaps we have been a victim of our own success. The Tyne-and-Wear Metro was designed and built in the late 1970s and the very early 1980s. It is a very accessible system. Right from the beginning we have had stairs, ramps and escalators to all stations and we have pretty level boarding between the platform and the train at all stations, the basic premise being that the system is a system accessible to everybody, irrespective of whether they have a disability or not; they may just be carrying heavy luggage or they may be a young mother with a pushchair or something like that. We operated very successfully on this basis for about 27 years and then in the space of one year, between May 2007 and April 2008, we had four instances where motorised scooters ended up on the track; two of these instances being where the scooter was mishandled on the platform and dropped directly onto the track and, even more worryingly, two instances where the scooter driver actually drove right through the train. The train came into the station, the doors opened, the scooter driver drove onto the train, crashed into the doors on the other side of the train, the doors were broken, they opened and the scooter and the driver landed on the track. As you can imagine, that was a bit of a shock to us the first time it happened.
Q55 Chairman: When did this happen?
Mr Mackay: The first instance happened in May 2007 and the second instance was April 2008. The first time it happened we thought it was a complete one-off and we undertook a risk assessment about the interface between the train and the platform and, whilst not ideal, we thought with sufficient additional warning and communication to scooter users through the various means we have we could enhance the duty of care by the scooter operator. After the second time it happened we reviewed our procedures and came to the conclusion that we had no option but to implement a complete ban on mobility scooters on the Metro system.
Q56 Mr Clelland: That raises the question as to whether other forms of transport, buses and trains, are adequately designed to take these motor scooters. Perhaps Mr Scales has a view on that.
Mr Scales: Like Mr Mackay, we are trying to build a single accessible transport network for the whole of our area and we will carry motorised scooters and wheelchairs on Merseyrail Electrics as long as we are told an hour beforehand. Each of the trains is double staffed, there is a guard on the train, and as long as we get one hour and the scooter actually fits the envelope and the weight, which is 300 kilograms, so we can actually secure it when we go on board, we will carry those scooters. We have a difference in that we have a guard who will go through the train from time to time whereas Tyne-and-Wear Metro only has a driver at the front. We have a slightly different system. What we will do, if a scooter user is unsure about the envelope or the weight, is send people out to check the dimensions before they travel. The object of the exercise is to try to get as close to turn-up-and-go as we possibly can.
Q57 Chairman: Are there many occasions where you have had to refuse somebody?
Mr Scales: We had only one unfortunate
incident that I can recall on the City Line which is a different railway where
they got the scooter on the vehicle and when the customer was trying to get
Q58 Mr Clelland: Should bus operators be making more effort to accommodate mobility scooters?
Mr Scales: I think so, that would be very good. Again, as earlier witnesses have said, there is a huge raft of different sizes. I have seen mobility scooters up to half a tonne in weight and the issue is, once you have got it on the vehicle, securing it properly. If you can secure it properly when it is travelling then you have a chance. Bear in mind that they have batteries on, if these things turn over they are very heavy and there is battery acid if there is an accident. It has to be done with a risk assessment. The way we do it on Merseyside - it is probably the same as other metropolitan areas - is that we have a Dial-a-Ride system or a Ring-and-Ride system where you can get these scooters on a specially adapted vehicle and tie them down so they are safe in transit. That is the key point: to make sure you can get it on the vehicle, travel in safety and then get it off at the other end.
Q59 Ms Smith: Do you think that operators ought to be making more of an effort to accommodate mobility scooters on buses?
Mr Scales: I think so and it would help if we had a standard mobility scooter. Your earlier witnesses talked about the mobility scooters which fold up and you can put them in the back of a car and they should be able to be accommodated on vehicles quite easily. As we say in our evidence, there is no regulation, there is no framework and there is no standard scooter. It would be really helpful if we had that framework and that national standard we could all get behind. Then all the areas could get to the single integrated network which is accessible to everyone.
Q60 Ms Smith: Do you think if we were to achieve such a network and a regulation of mobility scooters we could also then encourage the industry to produce buses which are designed to take mobility scooters?
Mr Scales: I think so, and our
colleagues in the industry are doing a lot on this. There are only something like 75,000 buses
Q61 Ms Smith: Do you think the new quality contracts made available under the Transport Act will help to push this issue with bus operators?
Mr Scales: Absolutely because that will allow the integrated transport authorities and their executive to specify the type of vehicle, something we could build into the specification.
Q62 Ms Smith: Bearing in mind that you seem to be saying that it would have to be done in stages or steps because the design industry would fall behind, if you get a mobility scooter designed to a regulatory size, the bus industry would be behind that to some extent, would it not? It would have to be stepped.
Mr Scales: Yes. It would not be a problem for new vehicles. I used to be a manufacturer of buses in a previous career and you can actually modify vehicles fairly easily. Again, it is what you are modifying them for. If you are modifying them for a standard scooter, standard weight, standard envelope, it makes it much easier.
Q63 Ms Smith: So quality contracts could be a start and there could be a demand for modifications for bus operators to get this moving.
Mr Scales: Yes, without a doubt it would allow us to specify the quality standards for the bus.
Q64 Mr Hollobone: Mobility scooters are exempt from the Road Traffic Act 1988 because the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 specifically exempts invalid carriages from traffic legislation and, therefore, a mobility scooter user cannot be prosecuted for most motoring offences, including those dealing with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and the use of mobile telephones. Do you think that the law should be amended to remove that exemption?
Mr Clinton: Yes. I think the laws about drink driving, careless driving, dangerous driving, using a mobile phone while driving, all of those ought to apply to people who are using a mobility scooter on the road because at that point they are using it as a vehicle. The difficulty is the level of penalties which could be imposed. There is not a licence to take away so with drink driving, for instance, you cannot ban someone as you would with a car driver unless one introduces that system. Those laws which are about behaving responsibly towards your fellow people on the road should apply to someone who is using a mobility scooter as much as to those using a car.
Q65 Mr Hollobone: What is the view of the police on this?
Superintendent Smerdon: Absolutely the same. There definitely needs to be a law which does allow them to be treated in that way. Currently, if somebody is found drunk in charge of a mobility scooter we use an Act from 1872, I believe it is, drunk in charge of a carriage, which is not designed in any way for this kind of event. Yes, quite clearly this needs to be updated and modernised. The issue for us will always be that if we are going to prevent these people by using the mobility scooter based on the fact that it is their only mode of transport in a lot of cases, their only way of getting out of the house, we need to ensure that there is some multi-agency support which goes round them to ensure that their lifestyle is not affected too much. I am keen, if they do have an accident, that there is some punishment applied to that but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we also then need to look after them.
Q66 Mr Hollobone: There is an offence in law under paragraph 35 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 which gives the police powers to deal with those who use mobility vehicles in a dangerous manner. Is it the police's view that that is a sufficient power for the police or would you like to see the exemption from the Road Traffic Act 1988 removed?
Superintendent Smerdon: My opinion would be that it would need to be updated. With the greatest respect, that was never designed for the mobility scooter problem we now have. It is using very old legislation to deal with a modern problem and my suggestion would be that it needs to be modernised.
Q67 Mr Hollobone: A comparison would be with somebody who is driving a ride-on lawnmower on the road. Could the police clarify for the Committee what laws would apply to a person driving such a vehicle?
Superintendent Smerdon: I will be honest, I am not an expert in that so I would not know off the top of my head and would not wish to mislead you.
Q68 Mr Hollobone: My understanding is that, if you were to do that, you are obliged to have a driving licence, have insurance and treat your lawnmower as you would a vehicle.
Superintendent Smerdon: As I say, I am not an expert, but I understand that for agricultural vehicles there is a mileage limit as to how often you use or ride them on the road before you have to have licences, et cetera. How you measure how often they are used on the roads is something we have never been in a position to do.
Q69 Mr Hollobone: It has been suggested that there should actually be a new offence of riding a mobility scooter in a dangerous way. Is that something members of the panel would support?
Superintendent Smerdon: Yes, we would.
Mr Mackay: Yes.
Mr Scales: We would support that.
Mr Clinton: Yes.
Ms Carpenter: Yes.
Q70 Mr Hollobone: All of you are supporting that?
Mr Mackay: Yes.
Mr Scales: Yes.
Mr Clinton: Yes.
Superintendent Smerdon: Yes.
Ms Carpenter: Yes.
Superintendent Smerdon: My understanding is that we have convicted somebody of being drunk in charge of a mobility scooter in Thetford.
Q72 Mr Leech: What kind of penalty was imposed?
Superintendent Smerdon: I do not know, sorry.
Q73 Chairman: Was that just once?
Superintendent Smerdon: Yes, just once, and that was the matter I raised earlier in relation to being drunk in charge of a carriage.
Q74 Mr Leech: Would you be able to provide that information?
Superintendent Smerdon: Yes, I am sure we can.
Q75 Mr Leech: Mr Clinton, when you were speaking earlier you mentioned the road but you did not mention the pavement. Were you saying that there should be different rules in relation to driving a mobility scooter on the road or the pavement?
Mr Clinton: No, the offences of driving dangerously would certainly need to apply to using it on a pavement, in a shopping centre, anywhere where there are people. If somebody is using the mobility scooter in a way which puts other people at risk, then the law needs to be able to cater for that and be enforceable. There should not be too much of a distinction there.
Q76 Mr Leech: Should there be any distinction between a mobility scooter and a motorised wheelchair?
Mr Clinton: Whenever we look at this issue we keep coming back to the lack of data which you have talked about and the importance of introducing legislation which is proportionate to the level of risk. We do not know what the level of risk is for mobility scooters or for electric wheelchairs. Without prevaricating, I find it difficult to answer. Logically the answer would be yes, but when thinking about bringing in legislation which might deter people from using those devices and, therefore, having that impact on their quality of life, you really need to be sure about the level of risk to justify that sort of intervention which might make some people housebound. I was very, very surprised to hear the figure of four deaths in one county from Mr Boyd and if that were replicated across the country - and there are 200-plus councils in Great Britain - that would give you a figure of 800 mobility scooter deaths.
Q77 Chairman: What information do you have from RoSPA?
Mr Clinton: Very, very little. As we know, the data is not collected. We used to get some figures from the Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance Systems. That stopped in 2001. There is a pilot going on to try to find a system to replace that which collects data at hospitals and records what sort of product was involved and that would give some data. I understand that the form the police use to record road accidents is going to include mobility scooters some time in the future, from around 2011. If that happens, that will provide better data. We really do not know which is why I was so surprised at the level that we heard from Mr Boyd. If that is replicated, in our view that would make this a much more serious issue.
Q78 Chairman: So you are saying that as far as RoSPA is concerned, you simply do not have the information.
Mr Clinton: No, we think that the level of death and injury will be a lot lower than has been indicated, but we do not know.
Q79 Chairman: Mr Scales, do you have any information about accidents on Merseyrail?
Mr Scales: There have been no accidents
at all that I can recall on either Merseyrail Electrics, the City Line, which
comes in from
Q80 Chairman: Is there any system that you have that would record any incidents or would it just be anecdotal?
Mr Scales: We would record it because we have a system called Respond which actually records all sorts of things like that. If it would assist the Committee, I can give you a note on that on how we capture the data from our bus stations and rail stations and use it to back up our decisions on the transport network.
Q81 Chairman: Mr Mackay, does that apply to Nexus as well? Do you have a system where incidents would be recorded?
Mr Mackay: We do. We use exactly the same system as Mr Scales so we could gather any information for the Committee, if you wished us to do so.
Chairman: We would be interested to receive that.
Q82 Mr Leech: Mr Mackay, when the decision was made to ban mobility scooters, was any consideration given to an alternative option like reducing the speed limit on stations and vehicles.
Mr Mackay: The particular problem we have is that the system is, generally speaking, unstaffed, so we do not have staff at stations and we only have the driver on the trains. We rely on the scooter user to be competent and obey the rules. We did look at alternatives, but, frankly, we were not happy about how we could actually assure ourselves as to how we would police them. We have subsequently put in place a different alternative which is to offer a different form of transport via taxi for people who wish to register with us. Again, we do not know exactly how many mobility scooter users use the Metro but we believe anecdotally it is between 250 and 300. Since 2008 we have had 15 of them regularly take up our offer of alternative transport. If I may add, and this is perhaps relevant to the earlier session, we have done a lot of work with the disability groups in Tyne-and-Wear and also with the manufacturers and we have explored ways and means that we could have a better quality of competence through training, through assessment, through licensing and so forth. The manufacturers of the scooters have been very happy to work with us to determine what limitations we have on our system which is a more confined space than the highway network. It would really, really help us if there were some form of legislation behind the use by people of mobility scooters, the maintenance of scooters themselves and the design of the scooters.
Q83 Mr Leech: Am I right in assuming that you have not banned motorised wheelchairs?
Mr Mackay: Correct.
Q84 Mr Leech: In what way do you see scooters being any more dangerous than motorised wheelchairs?
Mr Mackay: The basic difference between a scooter and a motorised wheelchair is the diameter of the wheel. There is a physical gap between the platform and the train; there has to be one. The problem has been that the incident to which I referred earlier where the motorised scooter actually went right through the train, was because the person ran at the train to get over this gap rather than merely asking somebody to help them and then they have not been able to brake because the design of the scooters is that very often there is no brake; it is an electrical brake which operates when you take your hand off the accelerator and that is incapable of stopping the scooter in the space available. In the first incident it was actually a Class II scooter, not a Class III scooter.
Q85 Mr Leech: Am I right in thinking that you appear to be suggesting that if there were better regulation and rules about what kind of scooters there were and people's competence in using them, there would be no problem with you being able to accommodate them again?
Mr Mackay: I think that would be a huge step forward; I am not saying there would not be a problem.
Mr Leech: It would be beneficial.
Q86 Chairman: It would alleviate the problem.
Mr Mackay: Absolutely, it would be a great step forward.
Clelland: In that case, should the Government make the
kind of proficiency scheme which is being run by Norfolk Constabulary
compulsory in all areas and available?
Q88 Mr Clelland: If so, who should be running the scheme? Should it be the transport authority, the police or the Department for Transport?
Mr Mackay: A scheme which would help us would be a national scheme because then we would all be working to the same standards. On light rail and on heavy rail and so forth, the standards do tend to be national standards, so we would all be on the same page.
Q89 Chairman: Mr Scales, you are nodding.
Mr Scales: It is like the cycling proficiency test, which now the marketeers have got hold of it is called Bikeability but it is really the cycling proficiency test. Something like that nationally would help enormously. It does not really matter who administers it as long as you have that framework and it has to set standards and quality feedback loops then you would be all right.
Q90 Mr Clelland: Would it also be helpful to supplement that if the suppliers of these mobility scooters were obliged to ensure that anyone who was sold a mobility scooter had information as to where they could go to get a proficiency test in their own areas?
Mr Scales: Yes.
Q91 Mr Clelland: So that would be part of the whole package.
Mr Scales: Yes, very valuable.
Mr Mackay: Yes.
Mr Clinton: Cycle training is a good model, there is a national standard but it is delivered locally. The instructors who deliver it are trained and accredited, so there is confidence in the quality of training which is being provided. I would say that RoSPA would not see this as being compulsory based on the data and evidence we have at the moment.
Q92 Chairman: So you would be looking for a national scheme but a voluntary one?
Mr Clinton: Yes, which is how cycle training works at the moment.
Q93 Ms Smith: We live in an era where road space is being increasingly demanded by various ranges of users: vans, lorries, buses, cars, cyclists, trams. Do you think that there is a place on our road network for mobility scooters?
Superintendent Smerdon: Definitely.
Mr Clinton: Yes. I assume you are not meaning delegated lanes but certainly mobility scooter users have a right to use the highway.
Q94 Ms Smith: That is my next question. If we do believe that, and I certainly do believe that mobility scooter users do have a right to use the road network, do you believe that planners, highway planners and so on, need to start thinking in terms of how they use the road space, how they design it in the future? Given that the cycling lobby is very, very keen itself to have increasing weight given to cyclists' needs on the road, do highway planners also need to start thinking about how they design roads with mobility scooters in mind?
Mr Clinton: Yes, absolutely. I am not sure that I would ever see dedicated lanes in the way that you get some cycle lanes. In fact, I do not think the cycle lobby particularly wants a mass increase in cycle lanes. What they want is traffic speeds and traffic volumes to be such that they can use the normal road in safety. Certainly everybody who uses a road should have an equal right to be able to do so safely. An interesting thing we are going to see in future is that there is already a separate consultation out about electronic personal vehicles. The Segway is probably the most well known. I do not know whether you know the Segway but it is a little circular platform with two wheels which you sit on. It may well be that we see all sorts of different things like this appearing and people using different types of equipment on the road for transport and the legal framework needs to be able to encompass that and set parameters for what sort of vehicle is simply not safe to be allowed to use on the road without being so restrictive that we stop this kind of innovation. The Department for Transport has a consultation out at the moment just asking this question: what should the legislative framework be about personal vehicles which we have not yet envisaged? Logically it should be one that should be as consistent as possible for mobility scooters, those sorts of things, pedal cycles, those ranges. In the end they are really quite similar.
Q95 Chairman: Were you consulted in relation to the consultation document?
Mr Clinton: Yes, the deadline has not passed on that yet, so we will be doing that this month.
Q96 Chairman: Were you consulted in bringing forward the consultation?
Mr Clinton: The one that has been announced today?
Q97 Chairman: Yes.
Mr Clinton: We responded to a consultation some years ago about the code of practice for Class III vehicles and there was a seminar to which I was invited last year but I could not go because of another commitment. I was not aware this consultation was coming out today.
Q98 Ms Smith: Do I gather from what you are saying that you would also support a 20 miles per hour speed limit on urban roads? That is certainly what the cycling lobby are looking for.
Mr Clinton: Yes. Not on every single urban road by any means but on residential roads yes, certainly. Twenty miles an hour zones are very effective.
Q99 Ms Smith: I appreciate that you have not got the data, but in your judgment is it possible that would be enough to significantly reduce the risks for mobility scooter users?
Mr Clinton: Yes. If you reduce the speed differential, so you do not have very slow vehicles and very fast vehicles, that provides a very good safety benefit.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
Witnesses: Ms Phillipa Hunt, Head of Policy and Communications, Living Streets, Ms Elizabeth Box, RAC Foundation and Mr Mark Yexley, Operations and Commercial Director, Arriva UK Bus, gave evidence.
Q100 Chairman: Good afternoon. Would our witnesses please identify themselves with name and organisation for our records?
Ms Hunt: Phillipa Hunt, Head of Policy and Communications at Living Streets.
Mr Yexley: Mark Yexley, Operations and Commercial Director for Arriva's UK Bus setup.
Q101 Chairman: Is current legislation in relation to mobility vehicles adequate in relation to the drivers or the pedestrians? Does anybody have any views on that? Is legislation adequate or does it need changing?
Ms Hunt: We obviously see mobility scooters as a great benefit to many people but we think that with an ageing population set to shoot up over the next few years, this is a good time to review existing legislation. We certainly think that there are opportunities to review insurance in particular, training, also to look at licensing and registration framework.
Q102 Chairman: What changes would you like to see in training?
Ms Hunt: We would certainly like to see all mobility scooter users receive training before setting out on their mobility scooters.
Q103 Chairman: Compulsory training?
Ms Hunt: Yes; compulsory along with compulsory third party insurance.
Q104 Chairman: Ms Box, do you have any comments on legislation?
Ms Box: Yes, I do very much agree with Phillipa that now is the time to look at legislation in this area. Obviously our area of interest and expertise is older drivers, but hopefully some of that information can be helpfully transferred into mobility scooter users. It is certainly true that we are seeing a rising number of mobility scooter users as a result of people driving later in life and we are very much of the opinion that more people are going to be using mobility scooters in the future as they decide to retire from driving. It is also important to recognise that older drivers generally are very good at self-regulating their driving behaviour and will generally retire from driving when they feel it is appropriate. We think this might transfer into scooter users as well. There is an issue about scooter users picking up the people who are no longer able to drive and therefore might have more cognitive issues than those who are driving.
Q105 Chairman: What changes in legislation would you like to see?
Ms Box: We see with the Class II and Class III at the moment that there is a real need to change the invalid carriage title and make it more appropriate to the new users we are going to see, maybe to personal mobility vehicles or whatever. There is a certain need to change that there.
Q106 Chairman: Specifically what change do you want to see?
Ms Box: Change in the definition rather than actual change in the usage because motorised wheelchair users are different to people who are ageing and perhaps using mobility scooters not necessarily for traditional disability impairments but more for mobility requirements in later life.
Q107 Chairman: Mr Yexley, is legislation adequate for drivers and pedestrians or should there be changes?
Mr Yexley: If I might take the liberty of broadening your question, because there have been several comments about the accessibility of public transport and, in our case, buses to mobility scooters. What would be enormously helpful in removing some of the concerns which have stopped all operators from embracing wholeheartedly mobility scooters is, on the one hand, some clarity on the advice which is available to everyone and, on the other hand, anything which improves training and so reduces some of the safety concerns on mobility scooters would be equally welcome. Also, from a very fundamental point of view, there is no doubt that we have large numbers of buses which are perfectly capable of taking mobility scooters, provided those mobility scooters conform to certain basic dimensions and weights. That is really the biggest area we would have thought could be relatively easily removed and make life an awful lot more straightforward for us.
Q108 Chairman: Do the police have sufficient powers to stop mobility scooters when required? Do you have any views on that?
Ms Hunt: One of the points I would concur with which came up earlier is that there is a significant lack of data in terms of issues surrounding mobility scooters. Anecdotally we know of cases where there have been injuries and accidents related to mobility scooters and pedestrians where the police have not had the power to follow up in terms of some of those incidents which I believe have been widely reported in the media.
Q109 Chairman: What problems do you see in relation to shared space? Is there a problem between the use of the mobility scooters and the rights of pedestrians? Is there a problem there?
Ms Hunt: We see that there is a place for mobility scooters on pavements but obviously there is a need to be aware that when you are on a mobility scooter you are mixing with vulnerable pedestrians as well and that is why we would advocate appropriate training and insurance.
Q110 Ms Smith: Would you advocate the same for cyclists in terms of using pavements?
Ms Hunt: Cyclists on pavements are a different issue because pavement cycling is illegal.
Smith: It is allowed in
Ms Hunt: My understanding is that cyclists should not be riding on pavements. There is therefore a different application to them. However, we believe that at the moment mobility scooters do have a place within parameters on the pavement and therefore it is a different situation.
Q112 Ms Smith: May I ask Ms Box from the RAC about the points you touched on earlier in relation to older drivers and the fact that some may want to step down from using a car to using a mobility scooter, not necessarily because of disability but because they are no longer confident driving a car?
Ms Box: Yes.
Q113 Chairman: Do you feel though that there ought to be regular testing at given periods of older people in terms of their suitability to drive either a car or a mobility scooter?
Ms Box: This is certainly a point that we are addressing in a report we are publishing in April. We have looked at whether there should be testing for over 70s because at the moment at 70 you reapply for your driving licence which then lasts for three years and it is a self-certification process. We felt generally that there should not have to be re-testing on an age basis; especially with the Equality Bill which is coming through it would be very difficult. This is because when you look at the safety of older drivers, older drivers are actually no less safe than their middle-aged counterparts when you look at the statistics. It is only when people are aged 80 or travelling fewer than 2,000 miles a years that there is any increased risk. Whether or not you want to test people at 80 is a difficult question. It really comes down to lifelong learning for all drivers and possibly having more formalised training and education for older drivers but also for all road users I would say. We see mobility scooters in that context rather than testing. The research from abroad shows that it is very difficult to do a fitness to drive test; often you can end up with false positives or false negatives as a result. Field of vision tests are not very accurate often. Instead you need driving examiners who are well trained in that particular area and that can be expensive. It is very difficult to get one single test that an optician or practitioner can do, you would probably need driving examiners.
Q114 Ms Smith: Do the RAC agree with the concept of the 20 miles per hour speed limit on many of our urban road; not to all of course but many of them?
Ms Box: Yes, we agree that 20 miles an hour zones can be very helpful in certain situations. We would not want to see a situation where it was blanket coverage of 20 miles an hour zones, it has to be locally specific, but where that makes sense and it can help encourage other modes of transport we are in favour of that.
Q115 Ms Smith: Cyclists and mobility scooters.
Ms Box: Yes.
Q116 Ms Smith: Do you think there is an argument for a ten miles per hour speed limit in some cases?
Ms Box: Are you saying outside schools or specific locations like that?
Q117 Ms Smith: Yes.
Ms Box: If there is really good reason for it, motorists generally do accept that there is a reason to be travelling at that speed and they are more likely to comply with it. If it is put in a place where individuals cannot understand the reason, then they are less likely. It has to be put in very carefully, but I think we would be more likely to support the 20 miles an hour zones because we know it is very difficult to get people to abide by 30 miles an hour zone rules let alone 20.
Q118 Ms Smith: Do you think the fact that so many car users do not want actually to obey the 30 miles an hour limit, never mind any 20 miles an hour limits we might want to put in place, makes it difficult for us ever to win the argument for creating spaces on our roads for mobility scooters?
Ms Box: Certainly that is the case, but as we see the population age and more people moving towards mobility scooters rather than driving it is really a case of critical mass and seeing more different types of road user coming onto the service and that is when motorists might see the purpose of going a bit slower. It will take some time to get to that point.
Q119 Ms Smith: What can we do to help that process along because it is going to take some bravery, courage if you like, on the part of all these other kinds of users to test that concept out on the roads?
Ms Box: Certainly, yes. There needs to be a much better understanding of road sharing amongst all different road users. At the moment cyclists in cyclist training are taught to take the centre of one particular part of the road; motorists might not be aware that is what they are being taught in training and might think the cyclist was being obstinate in not wanting to get out of the way. It needs a much better shared understanding between road users and I think the Government have a big role to play in that.
Q120 Mr Clelland: One thing which is coming across to me in our deliberations today is that one big step forward we could take would be to have a national proficiency scheme locally administered so that people who are using these scooters can have some training, perhaps on a voluntary basis, which could include how to access and exit from buses and trams, et cetera. Would you agree that would be a good thing? Should the Government, for instance, be looking to introduce such a national scheme?
Ms Box: We would agree that actually having a national training scheme for mobility scooter users would be very, very helpful indeed and we would certainly support that.
Ms Hunt: We certainly think adequate training should be a requirement for all mobility scooter users.
Q121 Mr Clelland: You think it should be compulsory rather than voluntary?
Ms Hunt: Yes, we do.
Q122 Chairman: Mr Yexley, you referred earlier to issues to do with the vehicles going on buses. Do you think there should be better guidance about that coming from the Department?
Mr Yexley: Yes, please. The situation is we know that there are mobility scooters which, provided they are no more than a certain length, certain width, no more than the 300-kilogram weight which has been mentioned already and crucially have a tight enough turning circle, can be accommodated very comfortably on buses which have been put into service since 2001. We have been all the way round the course of reluctance to go down this road in the first place because there are safety concerns. There are huge practical issues over drivers being able to recognise what type of mobility scooter is going to be able to be accommodated on a particular bus and huge practical issues in terms of someone buying a mobility scooter and knowing that it will work on a bus. If you put all of that together, but also bring into play the reality that more and more people are buying mobility scooters, we were getting an increasing number of instances where people had bought a mobility scooter in perfectly good faith only to find they could not use it on the bus. Finding some way of cutting through all of that that leaves us all with a practicable workable solution has to be something we should go for.
Q123 Chairman: How many accidents are there with scooters on the roads between buses and scooters?
Mr Yexley: I cannot give you any actual statistics but the sorts of things which have happened inside a bus have fallen into two broad categories. One is where someone has lost control of their mobility scooter and hit someone else, which is a more extreme version of some of the instances we have heard about involving other pedestrians. The others have involved other passengers on the bus catching themselves on handlebars and that sort of thing. Particularly if we could bring into play greater training and inject an element of people being made aware of the particular problems which can occur on a bus, then those are surmountable and, certainly from our point of view, we did not think they should stand in the way of accepting mobility scooters onto our buses.
Q124 Chairman: What kinds of records do you keep about accidents in relation to scooters? We have had a running theme through this evidence session that people are concerned about accidents and problems but the actual hard evidence is unclear or varies very much from place to place. What kind of system do you have to record accidents?
Mr Yexley: Obviously we track every single accident that we have. I could happily supply those statistics in Arriva's case to you.
Q125 Chairman: Are your systems comprehensive? Would they record the accidents which have actually taken place?
Mr Yexley: Yes, very much so.
Q126 Chairman: We would be interested to see that, please. This morning the Department did announce a consultation on this whole area. Have any of you been involved in getting that consultation going forward? Are there any specific things you would like to see coming from it?
Mr Yexley: In our case, we have not been involved in the consultation but where we would like to see things go is to pick up on the work which one of the consultancies undertook in 2005 looking at the whole subject of scooters and buses and had started to move us towards being able to define what size of scooter could actually work on a bus, and if that could continue to a proper conclusion that would be welcome.
Q127 Chairman: Ms Box, have you been involved in this and is there anything specific you would like to see coming from this?
Ms Box: No, we have not been involved with the consultation which came out this morning. Having a look through the consultation, we have a few points we would make on it. Firstly, there is the issue about whether mobility scooters should travel at higher speeds on the main road network, higher than eight miles an hour. We feel that we really need to look at what role we expect mobility scooters to meet and probably it might not be advisable to increase the speed for mobility scooters to, say, what we already see for electric bicycles, so 15 miles an hour. It has been put forward that it would save time for those users, but we have to think about who the users are and whether that time is worth any potential offshoot in terms of road safety performance. We would be concerned about seeing any increase in speed from those. We think technology can have a role to play in helping when mobility scooters are on the pavement environment and we are obviously concerned, along with others I expect, about any increase in weight which might come from mobility scooters because this could obviously injure pedestrians but technology might help. A lot more research is needed in this area and we need much more data on the subject before being able to come to any firm conclusions.
Q128 Chairman: Ms Hunt, are there any specific things you would like to see from the consultation?
Ms Hunt: We have not been involved in the consultation but the particular areas we would like to see it pick up on are providing a future framework for the increase in population, particularly looking at issues around insurance, the provision in terms of quality of public realm training, ensuring that vehicles are travelling at four miles per hour when they are on the pavement and whether more needs to be done around adequate registration and licensing of mobility scooters.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
Witnesses: Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Minister of State for Transport, and Dr Tim Crayford, Chief Medical Advisor, Department for Transport, gave evidence.
Q129 Chairman: Good afternoon. Could I ask you both to identify yourselves for our records, please?
Dr Crayford: I am Dr Tim Crayford. I am the Chief Medical Advisor to the Department for Transport.
Mr Khan: I am Sadiq Khan, the Minister of State for Transport.
Q130 Chairman: Minister, are there any initial comments that you would like to make before we go to questions?
Mr Khan: There are. May I first thank the Committee for calling this evidence session and accepting both written and oral evidence. May I pay tribute to Jeff Ennis who secured an adjournment debate on this matter the first week back in January. Although it has been a priority for the Department, it brought to the fore of my attention some of the challenges we face in this area. Many colleagues around the Committee will probably know people who have benefited from mobility scooters which have liberated them and given them independent living and the ability to go about living their lives as normally as they can. It has improved the quality of life, has led to a huge amount of additional independence which people did not otherwise have. To give you an understanding of how things have changed in recent years, figures we have show that in 2005 there were between 70,000 to 100,000 people who used mobility scooters. Figures we have from last year from the National Travel Survey put this figure now at 330,000 people using or having access to mobility scooters, so it has been a big increase. A final point I make by way of introduction is that we know from experts and independent commentators that over the next 20 years it is predicted there will be an 85% increase in those above the age of 80. All expectations are that the numbers of people using mobility scooters are going to go up. A final point I will make is that I was not aware - and I practised law for many years - that the only piece of legislation available in relation to potential criminal action against those who drive their mobility scooters carelessly or dangerously or recklessly is section 35 of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act and the offence is to drive your vehicle in a wanton or furious manner. Clearly it is about time that we revisit this and I am pleased that you are looking into this today.
Q131 Chairman: We are certainly pleased that the Department has launched a consultation and we like the coincidence of it being launched on the morning before this evidence session. However, the Department did have a previous inquiry in 2006 and recommendations from that inquiry included one that scooter users should have third party insurance and be subject to a fitness assessment. Indeed, both of those issues have been raised this afternoon. Despite that being a recommendation from the 2006 inquiry by the Department nothing has in fact been done on either of those matters. Are we going to have something more positive from your new consultation, recommendations that will be acted on?
Mr Khan: You raise a really important question. When Jeff put in for the adjournment debate, one of the first things I did when I was reading the briefings was to put the obvious question. When there was a review - not an inquiry - in 2005, why were the recommendations made in the review not followed up? The short answer is that when one compared the costs involved, the benefits received, the burdens and the issue of proportionality, bearing in mind that in that time there were very few incidents of personal injury, let alone that we know in recent times there have been some fatalities, it was not as serious an issue as it could be now. That is why we are consulting. The reason why we are consulting in the way that we are is to ask the sorts of questions that you have raised and that the Committee are looking into, the sorts of questions that both Jeff Ennis and Hugh Bayley raised during the adjournment debate and other stakeholders as well on both sides of the debate, those who use mobility scooters and those pedestrians going about their normal life who may be knocked over, injured, seriously injured or killed as a consequence.
Q132 Chairman: Do you have any hard information about the extent of accidents to motor scooter users or to pedestrians?
Mr Khan: That is a very good question. We have a number of sources for our information. We have evidence from A&E departments which says that there are approximately 750 incidents per year. We have information from the UK Trauma Audit and Research Network. They keep figures for those people who are inpatients for three days or more. They estimate that there are about 40 patients a year who are injured as a consequence of collision with mobility scooters. The evidence we have is, in fact, that 95% of those who are injured are the drivers of the scooters rather than pedestrians. We know from press reports as well that in the last two years to 2009 one pedestrian died as a direct consequence of a collision with a mobility scooter, two drivers died using a mobility scooter and in 2008 another pedestrian was killed as a consequence of a collision with a mobility scooter. We know, of course, of the case which Jeff raised of Madison McNair, the two-year-old who was with mum, walking in a shopping centre and was knocked over, went underneath the mobility scooter and was dragged for a long period as well. There are those cases which we hear about via the media rather than a central data recording place. What we have done now is to ask the National Travel Survey to include figures specifically on incidents with mobility scooters and we are doing a survey trying to get better information about direct incidents with mobility scooters as well.
Q133 Chairman: When would that information come? You have asked for that to be done from when? Now?
Mr Khan: The National Travel Survey's figures currently include this under "Other", but for this year should include a separate category for mobility scooters.
Q134 Chairman: Is the rate of accidents increasing?
Mr Khan: Good question. We could not give an empirical answer because, being brutally honest, the figures only start recently. That is one of the reasons why we have asked the National Travel Survey to start recording information so we can see.
Q135 Mr Clelland: It is almost inevitable though, is it not, with the growth in the use of these scooters that there are going to be more accidents and more incidents with interaction with pedestrians and other traffic? Do you think training should be compulsory for users of motor scooters?
Mr Khan: We asked the question in an open fashion in the consultation and it is deliberately open. One of the things I have recognised, looking into this, is that there is no penalty if it was not. For example, even now you know the rules around the speeds on pavements, the speeds on road, what sort of vehicle you can have and we know you are required to register, for example, a Class III vehicle. What are the sanctions if you do not? The answer is that there is none. I am happy to look at training, how you assess whether people are fit to drive, how you register, but the corollary is what the sanction would be if somebody did not and whether that is proportionate. That is what we are trying to look at. My final point in answer to that question is that we know it has led to an increase in numbers of people having independent living. What we would not want to do is have a disincentive for people to go about in a mobility scooter. The obvious parallel is the discussion we have around cycles and helmets. There is an issue about that.
Q136 Mr Clelland: What about a national proficiency scheme which was voluntary but when people bought the scooter they were given information as to where to go? What about something like that?
Mr Khan: There is a Motability scheme which the DWP help finance. That allows you to purchase a scooter via DWP paying over a period of time; three years. One of the conditions, if you accept the Motability scooter scheme, is that you must get insurance, third party insurance, and it has to be registered. The obvious question is that if we have sent the message there for it to be insured and registered, why not for those who are not getting a scooter through the Motability scheme. You make a strong point. We have to be realistic about those who sell on via the internet or second-hand purchasers of these, but I would be in favour personally, without prejudice to the consultation, of some form of registration scheme, whether it is analogous to the blue badge scheme, doing it locally, which we could do quite easily because there is an overlap, or whether it is a DVLA-type scheme which I suspect could be difficult to administer but would be one way of knowing who has the vehicles and you could then chase up who has insurance. You have to follow it through, which is an additional burden on the police and the authorities in pursuing those who do not have insurance and what would the sanction be?
Q137 Mr Clelland: If we had a national proficiency scheme, who would decide on what level of training would be given? Who would be training the trainers? Would we need a whole new group of people or do we have existing trainers who can take on this task?
Mr Khan: That is a good question. The other priority is going to be bicycles,
the schemes we have with cycling proficiency as well. You just raised several questions: who would
train the trainers; what happens if the trainers are not up to scratch; who
monitors the trainers; who gives them the kite mark; what happens if you fail
and all sorts of things? Some of the
horror stories I hear about people turning up, whether
Q138 Mr Clelland: You mentioned briefly there the question of eyesight standards. Should there be minimum fitness and eyesight standards and how would that be administered?
Mr Khan: Common sense dictates yes, but how would you police that? Let us go to the basics. What is the purpose of a mobility scooter? There are various types of mobility scooters, whether Class II or Class III. Tim, as a practising doctor, can give you some examples of how it has improved people's quality of life but clearly if you are visually impaired, unlike a pedestrian where you have a white stick or a dog and your ability to impact on others is limited, if you are in charge of a vehicle, whether it is four miles per hour or eight miles per hour, you can have an impact on others as well. Tim has some examples.
Dr Crayford: Certainly in terms of the practicalities of how some forms of medical assessment might reduce the numbers of people who are medically unfit using these vehicles, there are several existing mechanisms that one could use without generating a whole set of new bureaucracy. One of those things might be the blue badge scheme. There is already a medical assessment in the blue badge scheme. One could envisage a situation where applicants were judged, in the opinion of the assessor, as to whether there were any medical reasons why a person might not use a mobility scooter should they wish to do so. I suspect that might well root out some of the more serious cases that we heard about from other witnesses this afternoon.
Q139 Mr Hollobone: You could amend the driving licence legislation and have a new category for mobility scooters so that applicants would have to satisfy the examiner that they have the requisite eyesight and cognitive abilities and so on. That would be relatively low cost surely?
Dr Crayford: Yes. There are several places that one could look to where existing assessments are done. The driving licence route appears at first sight to be more complex but that is why we are consulting broadly on what stakeholders' views might be of other potential options.
Q140 Mr Hollobone: Mobility scooters are exempt from the Road Traffic Act 1988 because the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 specifically exempts invalid carriages from that traffic legislation. There has been widespread agreement in the evidence session we have had this afternoon that the law needs amending and there are several ways of doing it. One would be to remove the exemption. The other would be to introduce a new offence of riding a mobility scooter in a dangerous way. What is the Minister's view on those two options?
Mr Khan: I have no views on that. It is a genuine consultation over 12 weeks
and one of the questions we have asked is just that. What vehicle - forgive the pun - we would use
to pass legislation and what the wording will be will depend on the response to
the consultation. Just to put it in
perspective though, we have spoken to some of the insurers and I gave the
example in Doncaster, but there is another example in
Q141 Mr Hollobone: The Minister has said that it is inappropriate to rely on the 1861 Act and the police in the earlier evidence session said exactly the same thing. Are you able to tell us how many prosecutions have been brought under that Act in relation to mobility scooters in the last five years?
Mr Khan: I would be astonished if there had been one in the last 50 years.
Q142 Mr Hollobone: You started your opening remarks by saying this issue was a priority for the Department and yet we have already heard from the Chairman that you had a consultation in 2006, none of the recommendations has been acted upon and in the Government's response to this Committee's inquiry into road safety, your predecessor told us that incidents involving mobility scooters were "not an issue". Can I put it to you that actually the Department has taken its eye off the ball in relation to the seriousness of this issue, especially when there have been fatalities involving mobility scooters? Had the Department acted more quickly, it may well have been that those fatalities could have been avoided.
Mr Khan: Let me firstly correct the
mistake in your question. There was no
consultation in 2006, there was a review in 2005. Today we have begun the consultation that you
refer to. If you look at pedestrians who
have been killed or injured on the road or the pavement in the last ten years,
there has been a huge reduction. We are
now one of the safest countries in
Hollobone: Other countries around the world must be
looking at this issue. In today's
evidence session we were given examples of the City of
Dr Crayford: We are aware of differences
in legislation across
Mr Khan: One of the things we are looking at is how other sorts of technology could be used to design out some of the problems. For example, those of you who have been on a modern bumper car will know that when you approach another and are about to hit it, it deflects back without hitting. Query: why cannot those who design these things have a system where technology is used so when you are about to hit a pedestrian sensors somehow stop you doing so? We are looking to manufacturers and those in other parts of the world to see whether they have some of these design issues which have reduced the number of injuries or, God forbid, deaths.
Q144 Ms Smith: I want to turn to the more general issue of road use because, of course, inherent in the statement you made earlier about the potential for increased use of the roads by mobility scooter users is a sense of the space on the road having to be shared by an ever-increasing diversity of uses: cyclists, pedestrians to some extent, mobility scooter users, trams, buses, et cetera. Is there a case for issuing fresh guidance at the appropriate point to highway engineers and highway planners in order to ensure that the needs of all road users are catered for when we are designing our highways of the future?
Mr Khan: It is a tough question and
tough issue. One of the things we are
doing more and more is trying to put into the forefront of the minds of our
planners the issue of transport being integral to all you do when it comes to
designing the urban environment, housing, places of work and where shops
are. There is a big debate taking place
and we are undertaking a survey in relation to the issue of shared spaces,
shared surfaces, how you can try to integrate different types of
transport. One of the things we began
earlier this year was a consultation on Segways, electric vehicles, because
there is an issue about them. You cannot
use them on the road currently; other countries do. It is not simply mobility scooters; you have
raised a really important point. It is
cycles, motor scooters, Segways, electric bicycles all sharing that space. As you know, there are pilots in
Q145 Ms Smith: When do you plan to issue this new guidance?
Mr Khan: What I am looking forward to is, after the 12 weeks are over, receiving the response to the consultation. What we have tried not to do is to prejudge what the consultation response will say. I hope you will have received a consultation paper and you will see there are very open questions. When we see the response to that we will consider where we go from there in relation to other guidance we can give. We will receive the consultation responses to Segways and electric bikes sooner but it will all form part of our thinking.
Q146 Ms Smith: Some guidance to local authorities. May I just ask about speed limits? There is increasing evidence that reducing the speed limit as appropriate in urban areas to 20 miles per hour may be one of the best ways forward in terms of reducing risk for the wide range of users increasingly on our roads. Do you agree with that?
Mr Khan: Personally I do. We have issued guidance to local authorities where to have zones and 20-mile-an-hour limits and lots of local authorities are doing that. We are hoping to see evidence of reductions in RTAs around the schools; in my constituency we have those as well.
Q147 Ms Smith: If the evidence emerges that the 20-mile limits are working to reduce accidents, particularly fatalities and serious accidents, do you think the Government should actually require local authorities to implement 20-mile-an-hour speed limits?
Mr Khan: As brilliant and as in touch as I am with all parts of the country, my reluctance to do so is that I am not sure - and I speak as a former councillor - that I would appreciate somebody sitting in Whitehall with a map dictating where 20-mile-an-hour zones must go. What I am more comfortable with - and you know from your experience previously in local government - is that people who know their communities best have all the tools at their disposal to have 20-mile-an-hour limits and zones in their communities and all the evidence is that it works.
Q148 Graham Stringer: I take it that it is implied in what you say that, while we all recognise the benefits of having mobility scooters and they help many people, there are some people riding scooters who should not be.
Mr Khan: May I take you up on
that? I was shocked in January when I
looked at some of the examples:
pensioner in Sunderland knocked over, hit and run, died; a driver in
Q149 Graham Stringer: To answer the question, do you accept that there should be some rules and regulations or law that actually prohibit some people from driving scooters? The previous witnesses have been very reluctant.
Mr Khan: Let me be very clear. There are some people who should not be on mobility scooters.
Stringer: That is very helpful. You have talked about the statistics and you
have given some incidents where people have died. We heard Disability Essex on our first panel
of witnesses. They were indicating that
the number of deaths and accidents were much higher than even you are implying
now. They were saying that they were
aware of four deaths in Essex in one year alone and I do not suppose there is
any reason to think that
Mr Khan: I will ask Tim to answer that
and I will come back on the
Dr Crayford: The issue of the absence of data here is pertinent and we recognise that national systems currently are insufficient to detect the large number of minor injuries which occur through whatever cause, not just mobility scooters. It is very difficult to get national data about trips and falls in the home and so forth because national systems are not geared up to do that. Mobility scooters fall into that camp. Of the national systems which do exist, one is called Stats19 and that is the mechanism by which the country monitors numbers of accidents which occur on the highway. At present, mobility scooters do not form a separate category of reporting within that system. We do intend to change that by adding mobility scooters as a separate category which should enable us to monitor more accurately accidents which occur on the highway. Secondly then, the more serious injuries which might occur to mobility scooter users, the Minister has already referred to a research database run within the NHS called the Trauma Audit and Research Network, which suggests that we might expect to see 40 people in any one year who require a hospital stay of three or more days as a result of an injury due to a mobility scooter. That gives us a good handle on what might be the most serious end of injuries due to mobility scooters. In terms of deaths, again there is no separate coding in the way in which deaths are categorised during the death certification process which will allow us to identify systematically whether those deaths have been due to somebody being hit by a mobility scooter or driving one. Deaths such as we have them, these tragic incidents at the extreme end of the problem, come to us through anecdotal routes, through the press and anecdotal reports; there is at present no national system which is capable of monitoring them.
Q151 Graham Stringer: What are you going to do about that?
Dr Crayford: In terms of monitoring the deaths, that would require a change to the coding system and death certification process which falls without the realm of this Department.
Q152 Graham Stringer: It does not fall without the realm of the Government. Are you going to ask other departments to change it? If you have done a trawl through the NHS and you have found 40 and Essex are reporting four deaths a year, if Disability Essex are right, then that is at least circumstantial evidence that there is something really badly wrong with the statistics. You might get 10 or 20 serious injuries for every death; maybe even a higher ratio. It is important to get these figures as accurate as possible, is it not?
Mr Khan: Sure but on page 20 of the consultation under the heading "Data Collection" I recognise that and I make the point and a specific question is asked about how we can improve data collection and we refer to the NHS and the police as well. One of the things we intend to do - and we refer to this in the consultation - is to get other departments involved. If you think of the numbers I have mentioned - and that is why I deliberately mentioned DWP and the Motability scheme - some more joined-up thinking can be done here. However, the data collection is crucial for the reasons you gave.
Dr Crayford: Returning to the best sorts of data we have, which is from the NHS, it would suggest that the number of serious injuries is small but we are very interested to hear from other parties such as Essex and we will certainly be contacting the disability unit in Essex to see whether we can understand their reasons for this very worrying number of four deaths in one year within one county.
Q153 Chairman: Are you confident that the new sources of information you are proposing will give you a full and accurate picture?
Mr Khan: I will be more confident when the consultation ends and I see people's response to question 34 in the consultation. I am confident, from the information we have had up until now, that we do not recognise the four deaths in Essex a year but I do accept the current way of data collection is inadequate and we need to improve that. Some of the suggestions I have so far are the best we have come up with, but there may be more ideas from those who respond to the consultation. I have an open mind.
Q154 Chairman: You are waiting to see what comes back from that.
Mr Khan: Yes.
Q155 Graham Stringer: One last question, really back to the first point I asked, about some people not being fit to drive. We heard from Disability Essex about a man who killed himself by driving into the road and the reason he was killed was that he was completely blind. Do you think that there should be an eyesight test as a minimum of any condition for driving these vehicles?
Mr Khan: As a basic rule, if you are doing anything which has an impact on others, there should be some sense or acceptance of responsibility, and Tim has described some of the ways we could do this and an eye test is the obvious one. The balance to be struck always is not to make it so burdensome or costly that it makes people reluctant to take up a vehicle which could help them go about their independent living. I have another example of somebody with bad eyesight, who was visually impaired and caused an incident. It is one of the issues we are thinking about and I am looking forward to seeing the responses to this consultation.
Q156 Mark Pritchard: Minister, staying with visually impaired people, blind people, do you agree that audible public announcements on public transport would greatly assist and aid those who cannot see, basically knowing when their stop is coming along and when they can get off?
Mr Khan: Yes.
Pritchard: Why is it that Her Majesty's Government at the
moment is basically trying to exempt itself in
Mr Khan: No, it is not. As the Minister who goes to negotiate these things, it really is not.
Q158 Mark Pritchard: Can you perhaps explain for the record why then visually impaired groups are raising concerns and saying the opposite of what you have just told this Committee?
Mr Khan: I have met many visually
impaired groups who have lobbied me, including Members of the House of
Lords. Whilst they understand what is
happening in Europe and understand that European countries have different ways
of providing public transport in relation to it being under the control of the
state, whereas we have deregulated buses in particular, we have different ways
of operating our buses, they understand that what we are doing in Europe is not
in any way inconsistent with us trying to encourage all operators of our buses
to have audio systems to let passengers know when their bus has arrived. You of course, Mark, use buses in
Pritchard: You are saying that blind people should not
expect a view from the Minister on an issue where there is leadership in Europe
on public transport but the private sector may have a variety of reasons for
not bringing it forward here in the
Mr Khan: No, let me explain this in a
way which I hope will make it clear.
Mark Pritchard: I am just a bit
confused. A moment ago I thought I heard
you say it was a matter for the private sector because of the ownership
difference between the
Q160 Chairman: Minister, you did say you were encouraging the bus operators. Is there some resistance there?
Mr Khan: As you will know, we have legislation; we have given bus operators targets to make all buses accessible over a period of time to those who are disabled. If you do a graph - I am not sure whether the date is 2016 or 2018, I can do you a note - from now until then the bus operators are ahead of target. The recession has affected some bus companies and their ability to buy buses so they are buying fewer buses.
Q161 Mark Pritchard: Is it voluntary or compulsory?
Mr Khan: They have been given a target and they have been told in no uncertain terms they have to beat the target.
Q162 Mark Pritchard: Is it voluntary or compulsory?
Mr Khan: It is obligatory; it is compulsory.
Q163 Mark Pritchard: Are there penalties for not meeting those targets?
Mr Khan: No, I am not sure what the penalties are. There are sanctions we can take; they would be in breach of the disability discrimination legislation. I am not sure of the detail of what the sanctions are but I can assure you that there is legislation which deals with this.
Q164 Chairman: So they are obliged to do it but you are not sure what the penalty might be if they do not.
Mr Khan: They have been given a period of time to lead into this.
Q165 Mark Pritchard: Sorry, Chairman, forgive me. If you look at Standing Orders, I am trying to pursue a line of questioning and I know you are trying to assist the Committee and assist me, for which I am grateful, but if I might pursue a particular line of questioning. Basically these are soft targets?
Mr Khan: These are targets put in as a consequence of legislation this Government passed. I was not aware whether you voted for or against them, but I will check if you like.
Q166 Mark Pritchard: I think, more importantly than making party political points ---
Mr Khan: I did not mention your party, Mark.
Q167 Mark Pritchard: I think that it would be very helpful for the visually impaired people that I represent, rather than making party political points, if you wrote to the Committee and actually informed us about the nature of those targets and whether there are penalties for those who do not meet those targets and how bus operating companies are going about meeting those targets.
Mr Khan: Getting back to mobility scooters, I can also in my note give you information, which I am sure your constituents are keen on, on different policies operators have on allowing scooters on to buses, which I think was the intention of the evidence I am giving this afternoon.
Q168 Mark Pritchard: Okay. Staying with visually impaired people, and obviously you are the Minister with responsibility for disability in the Department for Transport, Pelican crossings. You will know that visually impaired people benefit greatly from beeping and bleeping so they know when to cross a Pelican crossing. More and more Pelican crossings are being made silent and in some circumstances they are replaced with spinners. Perhaps we will talk about spin today in a different context. A lot of these spinning devices on the Pelican crossings are often damaged or vandalised. Are you aware of this? Also, what might your Department do to look at new devices which have been suggested by charities for the visually impaired such as vibrating buttons in order that blind people know when it is safe to cross a Pelican crossing?
Mr Khan: I am very happy to look into that. If you write to me, I will look into that.
Q169 Mark Pritchard: May I ask you to look into the advocacy groups which have already made representation on this issue on Pelican crossings?
Mr Khan: Sure. None has to me but, if you send me the details, I will be happy to look into that.
Q170 Chairman: Minister, I know that you have come here to answer questions on the specific inquiry but Mr Pritchard is putting up other points and if you cannot answer, perhaps you would write to us.
Mr Khan: I am happy. I have invited him to write to me.
Mark Pritchard: A final question, if I may Madam Chairman, and I have actually given prior notice to the Minister about my final question on rail, if there is no objection from any other Member. He is the Minister for Transport with a wide brief and I am not aware that Standing Orders restrict us to asking questions written by Clerks. I represent my constituents and, for the record, I will basically ask any question I want on transport issues. At the moment there is no legal obligation to limit the numbers of passengers on trains. There is for buses and there is for aeroplanes. Do you think, on health and safety grounds, that is a sensible policy?
Q171 Chairman: That is about trains. Minister, if you wish to give us a written answer on that you may do so because it is not the subject of the inquiry. Mr Pritchard can ask his question. It is not the subject of the inquiry. If the Minister wishes to give a written answer on that issue.
Mr Khan: I did not hear the question, but I shall be happy to do that.
Q172 Mark Pritchard: Then I will repeat the question because I think it is an important issue. This is a Transport Committee, an important issue, there are millions of people using trains every day and I have been contacted by my constituents, in this case one from Wellington in Shropshire. There is currently no legal obligation to limit the number of passengers on trains, unlike planes and coaches and buses. Do you think, Minister, from a health and safety point of view, that is a sensible policy?
Mr Khan: I am happy to send you a note about that.
Q173 Ms Smith: Just quickly on that line of inquiry, I want to ask a question of the Minister in relation to the first question around access to buses and audio systems. Earlier this afternoon I asked a previous witness whether or not quality contracts could help us to achieve targets around access to buses for the disabled, including motor scooters. Could the argument be made that quality contracts could play a part in helping us to achieve targets around audio systems and that re-regulation of the buses therefore is one of the ways forward on this issue?
Mr Khan: One of the things we saw in
Q174 Mr Leech: Moving back to powered wheelchairs and scooters, do you think that motorised wheelchairs and mobility scooters should be treated any differently?
Mr Khan: I think they should. If you speak to the user, who would use a wheelchair, who would use a mobility scooter, older people who are not disabled can use a mobility scooter and do. For a motorised wheelchair they tend to be people for whom it is their sole means of getting around and they are more dependent on it. This is why, if you look at the history in relation to which of those two, aside from the size, are allowed onto buses and trains, it is because it is such an integral part of your life. That is one of the questions we ask in the consultation as well.
Dr Crayford: It is a very pertinent point. Powered wheelchairs are certainly used colloquially, although in the way in which the law currently treats mobility scooters, there is no separate distinction between them. Some powered wheelchairs may be Class II, some may be Class III. In terms of how the legislation should treat all these vehicles in future, to treat them in different respects in terms of the way in which the law should treat them differently, I am not sure at the moment how the law might wish to treat powered wheelchairs differently from Class III or Class II mobility scooters but we are seeking views on this classification and there is a specific question there about the distinction between these different types of vehicles.
Q175 Mr Leech: The reason why I asked the question is because previous people have said that they do not stop people from using powered wheelchairs on certain forms of public transport but there is a restriction on the use of motorised scooters. Do you feel that regulation on size and better regulation on weight and also possibly the introduction of safety equipment, helmets or whatever it might be for motorised scooters would actually help to ensure that scooters could be integrated within other existing public transport?
Mr Khan: That is one of the things we can talk to the manufacturers about as well as how to make them smaller. People do make a choice. When you go to purchase a mobility scooter, you are often aware that you will not be able to use it on a bus or a train, apart from the size, if for no other reason the ability to manoeuvre as well and you tend to use it if you are old not necessarily if you are disabled. One of the things that you can look into is in relation to how you could design them to fit on a bus or train. I am not sure regulation is the way forward and there is a weight issue as well, but one of the things we looked at in relation to the consultation was how we can get people's views about the difference. There is this issue about when you are going to buy - and Tim was doing a reconnaissance in various shops - you should be advised that this size mobility scooter will not be allowed onto a bus or train.
Q176 Mr Leech: In that case, do you think there is a case to argue that up to a certain size of mobility scooter should be allowed on all forms of accessible public transport in the same way as a wheelchair would?
Mr Khan: The ones now are based upon width and height; it is done on size at the moment. If your mobility scooter is a certain size, you could be allowed on a bus or other forms of transport. The trouble is that they tend not to be
Q177 Mr Leech: There are certain forms of public transport, such as the Metro in the north-east, which have banned motorised scooters on their network for health and safety reasons but they have not banned powered wheelchairs. If there was to be some sort of regulation on exactly what size of vehicle has to be accommodated under DDA on public transport, surely that would be a way forward to ensure that people knew exactly whether or not their scooter was going to be carried?
Mr Khan: There are regulations. The Commission passed regulations on this very issue.
Dr Crayford: There are certainly size regulations which apply through the DDA about the requirements for vehicle operators to accommodate the needs of referenced wheelchairs. The current position is that when mobility scooter users are purchasing their vehicle, they have a choice to make as to whether or not their local operator will take them onto the vehicle and that choice is clearly a determinant as to whether or not they are going to be able to use public transport as well as their mobility vehicle. The point you are making about whether future regulations should include the size of the vehicle as well as the weight is very well made and we would hope to receive views like that through the consultation so that we could consider drafting something like that into legislation.
Q178 Mr Leech: May I move on to the speed of vehicles? The limit on the pavement is four miles an hour. There is an assumption that four miles an hour is how fast people walk, but the reality is somewhat different. Very few people walk as fast as four miles an hour. Is there any consideration as part of the consultation about whether or not the existing speed limits are appropriate?
Dr Crayford: The consultation certainly seeks to question the appropriateness of the existing speed limits. The four-mile-an-hour limit is clearly a brisk walk but Class II vehicles need to accommodate the needs of people to get to and from home as well as mixing in amongst densely populated or pedestrianised areas. It is a fine balance between the civil liberties of a mobility impaired individual and the safety of these vehicles which, if combined with better safety modifications of those vehicles, moving at four miles an hour in a heavily pedestrianised area might mitigate what appear to be risks which materialise into injuries.
Mr Khan: That is a maximum speed limit on the pavement. They do not have to go at four miles an hour and clearly if there were congestion, you would not. One of the specific questions asked in the consultation is whether it should be higher on the road. One of the points I made earlier on is that actually eight miles per hour is the current limit but the system is automated and you can change the limit whether you are on the pavement or the road. One of the questions we have asked specifically is whether we should increase the speed limit on the road.
Q179 Chairman: Presumably concerns have been raised on this issue and that is why you are including it?
Mr Khan: During our stakeholder events and talking to other stakeholders, people raised it as an issue and that is why we have asked the question in an open fashion.
Chairman: It has also come up in the evidence we have had as a particular issue.
Q180 Mr Leech: I want to follow up in terms of eight miles an hour on the road. If the speed limit were to be increased, is there an assumption that would also then coincide with the introduction of safety equipment?
Mr Khan: You raise a really important point. A quid pro quo of that is that I cannot on the one hand argue deregulation is bureaucratic and burdensome and on the other hand give you more rights to go faster and all the rest of the stuff. That is a balancing act. That is one of the discussions we would need to have after the consultation. On the one hand we are trying to allow people to carry on having independent living, use mobility scooters. On the other hand, if you are going to have more rights it means that comes with additional hurdles you have to overcome to do that. You are right to raise that as an issue to bargain with.
Q181 Mr Leech: Is any consideration being given to restricting the use of people without some sort of licence or competency for driving on the road, restricting them to the pavement only and giving the opportunity for others to go on the road as well as on the pavements if they have passed some sort of proficiency test that may or may not be introduced?
Mr Khan: I have not thought about that particularly. You raise an interesting point about whether it could be a reward to allow you on both road and pavement, otherwise just pavement if you have not passed the proficiency test. It is one of the things we would look into. We are not currently considering making it compulsory.
Dr Crayford: We are asking two questions in the consultation: one about licensing itself and the other about classification. Through the views that we hope to obtain suggestions such as the one you put across may very well come through. At the moment, for example, if one made what would appear to be a natural alignment with the blue badge scheme, that could form a gateway so that people who were entitled to a blue badge were automatically, subject to health clearance, be entitled to use a mobility scooter if they so wished. That might create a sensible gateway for all forms of mobility vehicles.
Q182 Chairman: Are you satisfied with safety standards in relation to mobility scooters?
Mr Khan: Do you mean the design?
Q183 Chairman: Yes. Two things: firstly design and, secondly, there is quite an extensive second-hand market in scooters and some concern has been expressed to us about whether people are receiving vehicles appropriate to their needs. Are you concerned about safety in either of those areas?
Mr Khan: Both. There is currently no test for roadworthiness/pavement worthiness of a mobility scooter; one of the things we would need to consider, especially with a grey second-hand market, if you think about the number of additional users and how expensive they can be. Secondly, in relation to design, if you consider the most frequent likely injuries, it is probably going to be a shin injury because of the way they are designed and that is why, as a lay person, I find it difficult to comprehend why you cannot design out some of these problems. They are basically metal. Why can you not design them in a way where you would not cause injuries such as fractures? Tim has been speaking to manufacturers and the regulatory body about this as well.
Q184 Chairman: Is one of the areas of your concern that you are looking at the manufacturers and regulation?
Mr Khan: Tim has been speaking to manufacturers this week.
Dr Crayford: We have been in communication about the potential to improve safety along the lines which the Minister has outlined in terms of the design of the vehicles to prevent them causing injury. Obviously any attempts to regulate need to be proportionate and I entirely accept your point about the paucity of data in this area but there is some good data which leads us to a reasonably sound conclusion which is that these vehicles are relatively safe on the basis of existing evidence. We clearly need to take on some of the reports that we have seen anecdotally through the press and we will be talking to Disability Essex. However, we believe that at the present time the vehicles are relatively safe. Any regulation to improve safety will need to be conducted in the context of their apparent safety at the moment.
Graham Stringer: May I ask the Minister to have a look at the report which we did two or three years ago on overcrowding in trains? He will find in that evidence and appendices that the Health and Safety Executive, when asked whether overcrowding in trains was dangerous, said that the forces are so extreme that actually overcrowding probably very marginally helps the safety.
Chairman: Some extra reading for you there. Thank you very much for coming in and answering all of our questions.