The Noodleman Group
By Felicity Blaze Noodleman
Motorized or Power Wheelchairs are the product of technological advancements which have become a marvel for the handicapped and a booming multi-million dollar industry which is now surpassing the Billion dollar mark for all manufacturers including accessories. Still in its infancy this new mode of motorized transportation is not regulated and the chairs safety is at the discussion of the manufacturer and the buyer.
Although they were first invented in the early 1880’s they were not generally available to all the handicapped until the past few decades. New designs and concepts have also contributed to their popularity and government assistance through Medicare has also helped with the affordability for the handicapped and elderly. This is not a historical account of wheelchair technology but should be acknowledged as a logical introduction for the subject of this blog.
Today it is estimated that there are in excess of 600,000 of these “Power scooters” in operation by the handicapped in the United States. Local and Federal mandates have been made in an effort to make ease and accessibility for the users of all Wheelchairs available and bring the handicapped back into the mainstream of everyday life. From ramps to “chairlifts” on Municipal bus lines, to curb ramping which merge with street level, specialized seating in restaurants, larger lavatory stalls and handicapped and parking on the streets and parking lots – society has made the effort to meet many contingencies for the disabled.
It is also interesting to note the boom in mobile wheeled devices in use today on sidewalks everywhere. From the traditional bicycles and baby strollers to skateboards, rollerblades, shopping carts, walkers for the elderly, portable suitcases, carry along devices, delivery hand trucks, pallet jacks, motorcycles and the occasional automobile; pedestrians today must be evermore alert to dangerous situations as we take that casual stroll to our favorite restraint or shopping Center.
As we walk along this throufair for foot traffic known as “side walks” all are moving along together at more or less the same speed with the exception of a few – bicycles and Power Wheelchairs. Both are capable of achieving speeds of up to 20 MPH’s. It’s hard to find specific information on the specifications of these mobile scooters but some handicapped users take muck pleasure in the quickness of their machine. Many are capable of turning on a dime to achieve mobility in tight spaces found in the home. But in public I have been shocked to many times by the sudden movement and quick turns of these mobile devices. They can become a public safety hazard if not operated with caution and consideration for those around them.
A web site in the UK identified as “Directgov.com” has determined 3 classes of Powerscooters and has recommended scooters should not travel in excess of 4MPH on sidewalks. I strongly agree! Listed below are some examples of unsafe and annoying behavior by the disabled operators in their Powerchairs:
· Scooters traveling at full speed indoors and out.
· Being cut off by scooters which have appeared out of nowhere.
· Scooters on over crowed elevators.
· Scooters traveling at “full out speed” downhill and through the street intersections.
· Scooters which suddenly turn around as you are walking behind them.
· Scooters which become entangled in floor mats.
· Scooters which turn over because of bad sidewalks or improper operation.
· Scooters operated when they are in poor repair (wheels which are loose or have rubber which is broken and separated from the wheel or even worse, no rubber at all).
· Scooters with operators who just plain lose control of their machine.
Hospitals are the only agency tracking and reporting the statistics of motorized
Wheelchair and Scooter accidents. During the reporting period between 1996 thru 2006 they have seen a rise of incidents. At some point it would appear necessary to publicly train and license Powerchair users and maybe ever require them to wear helmets. But until then, they operate under the same rules and laws as the rest of us.
One final closing story. I spoke to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who was a Motorcycle Officer with his machine on the sidewalk at a subway station. Jokingly, I asked if he was looking for Power Scooters to ticket. He replied he would cite any unlawful behavior. Then the Officer told me he had once stopped a Powerchair for unsafe operation and upon investigation he discovered the operator was on parole and found a handgun under the seat of the Powerchair!
Thanks for joining the “Noodleman” group!