Mobility Scooters Mean Independence on Wheels – and Risks – for Seniors

Independence and self-sufficiency are goals that many seniors seek — and many family caregivers seek for their loved ones.

Remaining mobile even after their bodies cease cooperating is achievable through durable medical equipment such as walkers, canes, power wheelchairs, and mobility scooters.

Many have opted to use a mobility scooter for the speed and convenience it provides. Not every senior who would like to own one is able to due to the cost.

A senior must qualify to receive a scooter under Medicare as medically necessary and even that has become more difficult, as we learned when the government took aim at claims made by a manufacturer selling scooters and billing Medicare.

It is estimated that scooter purchases were a $1 billion industry in the US before Medicare took action. The government stated that as many as 80% of scooters in use did not meet medical guidelines for necessity.

A senior can use a complimentary scooter at many grocery stores and large chain retail stores, who make them available for shopping experiences to attract those with mobility problems.

Scooters can give seniors freedom to participate in more activities and visit more places than they feel comfortable or safe doing otherwise. Inactivity and immobility can lead to more health consequences, boredom and isolation for some seniors.

Potential Scooter Danger

You knew it was coming . . . yes, there is a downside to mobility scooters!

Many seniors who are in possession of a motorized wheelchair scooter are at risk for injury. One staff member at a senior citizen apartment complex with whom I spoke recently felt that the hallways had become a NASCAR track, as speeding seniors zoomed past.

Seniors don’t have to pass a test at the DMV to get a scooter and many don’t even get an extensive tutorial when the scooter is delivered. This leaves many questions for loved ones.

  • Do they know how to operate it properly?
  • What safety precautions do they need to know to operate one safely and not be a danger to themselves and others?
  • Will someone be there to help when they get into an accident, either on the street, at a store, or alone in their own home?

Let’s not forget the property damage that seniors at the controls can inadvertently cause, such as gouged walls, cracked drywall, scratched doors, toppling over objects in their paths, and any number of other “fender benders.”

Strategies to Improve Mobility Scooter Safety

There are steps family caregivers can take to promote safety, many of which are already in use at senior living facilities, where scooter use is often treated as a privilege rather than a right.

It’s important to keep in mind that many seniors, both those driving scooters and those around whom they are driving, may be less able to react quickly and more susceptible to injury in even minor collisions.

  • Many facilities and apartment buildings frequented by scooter driving seniors have been giving driving tests, which must be passed in order to use their scooter. Some have not passed and face yielding their scooter. Help your senior loved one get tested for safety awareness and operation.
  • Staff members have become crossing guards and monitor the safe use of scooters once they are allowed to be used. Privileges are revoked when safety is a concern whether physical to the driver, pedestrians or the building. Warn your senior of the consequences of unsafe actions.
  • Experts warn that scooters need to crawl, not zip, speeding is not recommended! Use turtle speed. Set the speed on the scooter for them.
  • Read the owner’s manual before use and try to get a driver’s training class before your senior gets behind the wheel. Help them understand it is for their own and others’ safety.
  • Order a scooter with four wheels instead of three to give added stability and help prevent rollovers.
  • Be sure your senior’s arm mobility allows for adequate use of braking and steering mechanisms.
  • Stress importance of maintaining posture. Many rollovers are caused by shifting weight side to side or sitting too far forward causing tips.
  • Stay on a flat surface, avoiding high pile carpeting that can impair wheel function or even get fibers into the mechanism. When outdoors avoid debris, cracks, potholes, uneven surfaces, and steep inclines. Avoid grass and soft dirt areas too.
  • Use rear view or side mirrors. If they aren’t included, add them yourself.
  • Consult an Occupational Therapist (OT) to help you determine the best model for your senior.
  • Keep the settings recorded once initially set up so they can be checked for correctness or altered as the senior’s needs change. Be sure the supplier sets up the scooter after purchase specifically for the intended user.
  • Remind your senior loved one they could be liable for any injuries or damage caused by unsafe use of the “vehicle” they drive. This includes medical costs and property damage resulting from an accident. A lawsuit could also result or even criminal charges depending on the incident.
  • Do routine maintenance to ensure proper functioning of the scooter, including regular inspections, tightening all the nuts and bolts, and checking the electrical system and wheels.

Maintaining Safety Helps Independence, Too

Too often we read the headlines of injuries such as the woman who was mowed down by a scooter and suffered a broken leg; people being knocked over; toes getting run over resulting in bone breaks; and damage to elevator doors.

For each major reported incident there are likely many more that aren’t reported.

We all need to remember safety first and go slow when behind the wheel of a scooter wherever it is used and whether it is owned or borrowed from a store.

Discussing safety precautions for their own scooter can help your senior loved one become more aware of the other scooters in use around them and avoid becoming a victim themselves.

A few safety precautions will mean a better experience for all.

We wish your loved ones happy scootering!


2 thoughts on “Mobility Scooters Mean Independence on Wheels – and Risks – for Seniors”

  1. Great article on mobility scooters, Kathy! I’m considering to buy one for my dad. He’s in his 80s and loves to walk but his knees are not that cooperative lately. He’s totally OK and sane otherwise so I think there shouldn’t be any problems, he drove a car pretty much daily just a couple of years back.

    Anyways, it was a good overview of both, good and bad sides to the topic.

    • Thanks Juliette, I hope it helped give you some ideas to make your decision easier! Good luck to you both!

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