ROUNDTABLE: Dealers gather to debate what the industry can do to make mobility scooters safer

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Some of the industry’s top retail execs and leading advocates for mobility scooter safety gathered recently to discuss what the supply chain can do to fight back against the rising number of injuries and deaths involving the equipment. AMP brings you the full roundtable discussion, sponsored by Fish Insurance.

Why are we seeing so many injuries and accidents involving mobility scooters?

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Gavin Thompson: I think you’ll get the same answer from everyone inside this room. I think the simple answer is the internet – people are buying the incorrect machines and they’re not getting a single bit of advice. I wouldn’t buy a car from Costco but you can buy a mobility scooter from Argos.

Mike Holborn: I think even worse than some of the internet sellers is the machines coming in. The three-wheel 900w motors than can be tweaked up to 30mph are available on the internet. They’re being advertised at 15mph and they are inherently dangerous.

How big of an issue is scooter safety for our industry? Does it give the public negative connotations about scooters, their users and retailers?

Graham Johnson: Yes. I certainly get a lot of feedback from mobility scooter users who have negative connotations.

Michelle Mossford: Of course. But while we want to draw attention to mobility scooters we need to remember other points. One hundred cyclists per year are killed and 3,000 seriously injured and yet there’s no test in place for cyclists. So while we want to be really careful with the mobility industry, it’s important to compare it to other stats. I’ve got down 350,000 mobility scooter users in Britain, 260 accidents in 2016 and 14 deaths.

Gavin Thompson, commercial director at The Disability Trading Company, shares his experience of the firm’s ‘Scoota-safe’ scheme.

Matt Cook: That’s a much higher percentage as there are far more cyclists than scooter users. We estimated there could be up to 400,000 uninsured scooters on the streets. We’ve got down nine fatal accidents in 2015. We’ve seen 36,000 claims just to Fish Insurance over a three year period up to 2016.

Richard Holland-Oakes: Can I just put this into perspective of what the amount is? Spinal injuries. There are 14 registered a week, compared to 14 mobility scooter deaths over a year. So the percentage is incredibly small.

How do you feel the kind of stories you see in the national press or hear about from the public involving scooter accidents impact on your businesses?

Richard Holland-Oakes: I personally think that the people who come to a mobility showroom are the more ethical customer that you can sell an insurance policy to. They want the third party liability because that’s what scares them. Not because they’re going to smash it and break the scooter, they’re scared they’re going to hurt someone. Maybe there could be a pilot scheme with the insurance companies that could be trialled where we assess people yearly. I think with social media people are becoming much more aware of it.

Michelle Mossford: I don’t think people realise at the time. We get a lot of people who come into stores who buy something online and don’t realise until they start to use it that they don’t have the confidence. That’s why we do a proficiency course. The amount of people we get who have bought it elsewhere but come to us for the courses is huge, so we pick up a lot of business there.

Duncan Gillett, of Clearwell Mobility, runs one of the largest retail operations in the country.

Richard Holland-Oakes: From an insurance point of view, there could be an arrangement where if the consumer takes insurance out the dealer will come out and assess them in a year’s time to see if the product has been serviced and maintained. But within that, we’ll check whether the user is still suitable to use the scooter. Someone might have developed dementia, but they can’t remember, and they’re still using
the scooter.

Duncan Gillett: I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but would you go out to a customer and say: ‘You’re not fit to use this scooter, I’m taking it?’

Richard Holland-Oakes: The thing is, you’ve got to be ethical about it. A scheme like this would have to be endorsed by someone. Someone’s got to be the fall guy, shall we say, and get this going with the government and show that a pilot scheme can be successful.

Graham Johnson: Maybe further down the line that would work. But you’ve got to get the upfront situation sorted first of all and the customer should be assessed when they buy the scooter.

Mike Holborn, from Fish Insurance, is keen on working with retailers.

Mike Holborn: From an insurance point of view, as far as we’re concerned, of course we think that everyone should need insurance. Having said that, I think you’re right, Graham. It’s the upfront part of doing it. Very often you do have a customer who hasn’t got a lot of disposable income so it’s a lot to ask them for another £60 to £100 on top of the scooter at the time. So what we’re trying to do is look at ways of making it easier for them to be insured and more accepting.

Giles Donald: On the insurance side, is there a point where once people have been through an assessment, presumably they’re less of a risk to you? So there is potentially an option there for a cheaper policy for people who have gone through a standardised proficiency test.

Mike Holborn: I totally agree. It has to be industry-regulated. Heaven forbid if it got into the hands of the government to arrange it, else it would totally be out of the dealers’ hands.

Collision avoidance systems could be fitted to class three products. It could be that only class three scooters have these safety systems. There are lots of things suppliers could do to make scooters safer”

Aaron Sverdloff: What about a license for dealers? Rather than too much red tape for end-users and restricting sales, how about a bit of regulation for the dealer. A dealer could be licensed through the BHTA or some other body, similar to the Motability Scheme, where they’d have to attend a training course. That retailer then hopefully has assessment packs with all the relevant safety checks, proficiency test and everything else that goes with it. And then that dealer has some kind of responsibility – he or she owns that sale to that customer. Of course there’s a liability issue there but it’s going to be a much better system than people going online and buying a huge scooter without any training.

Ability Plus boss, Graham Johnson, tries to ensure all customers take out insurance.

Duncan Gillett: The retailer carrying out the assessment – there’s a clear conflict of interest. Will your staff objectively assess a person when they’re about to spend £3,000 with you? Would your staff turn them away? You’ve told them to sell scooters. We all take responsibility in our local areas but I don’t think a retailer can ever be wholly responsible for assessing the user because you’re conflicted.

How do you balance assessing the user with making that sale? How tough is that?

Graham Johnson: On all our scooters we do a package where the insurance is included within it. We highlight the fact of the insurance being the important part of the package they get. By ensuring they’re taking the insurance then we’re doing our bit.

Aaron Sverdloff: I totally understand that, but if you look at Motability, there are regular training events to maintain your accreditation and the same could go for dealers to have a license to sell. If it’s found that they’re regularly mis-selling then that license could be revoked.

Richard Holland-Oakes, Recare boss, wants the industry to come together.

Giles Donald: I think that part of the problem is that legislation is years and years away and the only way to change things is if the user is driven to change. They can’t be forced to change. If they’re forced then that needs legislation and that’s years and years away.

Michelle Mossford: I think quite honestly that it’s often the user who is insistent that they don’t need a proficiency course. We’ve had relatives of customers who have been so relieved when we’ve told the user they’re not fit to drive [a scooter]. Because often the user needs to hear it from us.

Giles Donald: If someone’s been driving for 60 years they’re going to be stubborn.

Duncan Gillett: But what stops that customer going and buying it online?

How much responsibility do you as dealers have to ensure that users are not only able to operate a scooter safely, but that they’re also educated on the risks?

Aaron Sverdloff: There’s a lot. I would imagine most deaths would be down to something getting trapped in the control system. That happens with handbags and various hooters and horns. It only takes a few seconds and they can be in a road. Simple solutions could go a long way and that advice at the point-of-sale, making sure users are aware of certain precautions, is very important.

Aaron Sverdloff, managing director at Lifestyle & Mobility, hopes manufacturers will bring in new safety innovations.

Michelle Mossford: How many of you have the Highway Code? All retailers are allowed to use it. We use it a lot but I’ve not seen one in any other stores.

Gavin Thompson: On that point, we have a test track at our head office. We work with Liverpool City Council and Warrington Borough Council and they sponsored us through a small grant to come up with a programme called ‘Scoota-safe’. It’s a driving test and the user gets a driving license that’s printed on a proper card and their scooters get a certificate to say they passed the test on that scooter.

Mike Holborn: Can I ask you a question regarding speed? When you’re doing the assessment, do you look at it from the point of view of someone may be suitable for a 4mph scooter on the pavement but there’s no way you’d sell them an 8mph to go on the road?

Aaron Sverdloff: Occasionally we would restrict the type of scooter. That’s a conversation to have with the user and their family. But again, where do you start restricting people? Do we dictate to people when they might feel completely independent? There is a limit to where we can go with that.

Duncan Gillett: I think the speed debate is an important one. I think most scooters are used on the pavement.

Aaron Sverdloff: And buying class three scooters online should maybe be looked into. Because people might not realise the size and the speed of the scooter they’re buying.

Wheelfreedom boss, Giles Donald, believes safety initiatives should involve end-users.

Giles Donald: If someone hasn’t practically sat on something and tried it in their local environment it’s impossible for them to tell. The concept of 4mph and 8mph – if you’re driving along in the village at 30mph in a car it doesn’t feel very fast so you assume 8mph must be walking speed.

Darren Macey: Are we really going to put in legislation? Is that going to happen? That’s been on the table for years. I think where we as dealers can make an impact is through manufacturers. Obviously car technology has massively changed, for example the pre-collision radar systems. Perhaps that’s the way forward.

So much comes back on the dealers in terms of responsibility when it comes to scooter safety. But how much responsibility is on other parts of the supply chain, including manufacturers, to ensure scooters are safe?

Gavin Thompson: Well, are the suppliers going to care? If we push back are they going to walk away? Because if we don’t buy their scooters, someone else will buy them.

Darren Macey: Collision avoidance systems could be fitted to class three products. It could be that only class three scooters have these safety systems. Some kind of kill-switch maybe. It’s simple things that
people can relate to. There are lots of things suppliers could do to make scooters safer.

Giles Donald: Yes, confusion at the controls is a common cause of accidents we find. People can panic.

Michelle Mossford, of Ableworld, runs successful scooter safety schemes which also boost sales for the retailer.

Duncan Gillett: The radar idea is brilliant. The other thing you could have is a speed limiter so that if you’re on a pavement the radar could pick up that there are lots of objects around you.

Darren Macey: I think we, as dealers, need to push this back to manufacturers.

Given that the market is only expanding and there are more and more scooters on the road every day, do you think this problem will ever be solved?

Richard Holland-Oakes: The respectable manufacturers – TGA, Sunrise, Invacare, Electric Mobility – if they all got together and said this is what we’re going to do, we might get somewhere. But how many emails do you get from China every day offering you cheap scooters? All it takes is for one-man-bands to pick up on those and bring in the scooters and start selling them.

Mike Holborn: A lot of the small dealers can’t get accounts with the larger manufacturers. They’re worrying about losing big accounts nearby, which you can understand. You can understand the manufactures and the dealers’ frustrations.

Duncan Gillett: Can I raise the issue of maintenance and road worthiness and whether that should be an area the government should be regulating? Maybe not as far as an MOT, but maybe there needs to be some kind of road worthiness check done.

Aaron Sverdloff: In our handover packs, it says it’s important to keep your annual servicing up to date, if you fail to do so you could invalidate your warranty and insurance policy. Little things like that.

Thompson shows the ‘license’ scooter users are given after completing a safety course.

Duncan Gillett: Could the insurance companies make it a requirement to have a road worthiness check in accidental cover policies?

Matt Cook: There’s nothing there in the policy at the moment. You’ve got to remember that we don’t underwrite the policy, we’re the broker. There’s no harm in us going back and asking for it.

Darren Macey: I think it’s a good idea and it makes us more money through the servicing.

Is it fair to say that compulsory scooter insurance just a matter of time?

Duncan Gillett: I think there’s unanimous support on that.

Graham Johnson: We try and suggest it’s compulsory without actually saying it’s compulsory because we think it’s that important.

Mike Holborn: Most people buying a scooter want to get it insured, it’s a logical thing to do. One thing that has gone down really well is allowing people to pay for insurance in instalments. If they’re on PIP or high rate DLA, they might have income but they won’t have capital. So for less than a price of a cup of coffee each week, you can have peace of mind. They’ve almost got no excuse not to insure it and you’re giving them an opportunity to pay for it.

Most bricks-and-mortar dealers agree that the online sale of large scooters needs to be regulated. How fair is that on those businesses?

Duncan Gillett: I’m not sure they should be regulated. That might be seen as anti-competitive. It shouldn’t be that the online seller is regulated, it should be the use of the product.

Graham Johnson: Some online dealers are opening bricks-and-mortar stores now, the big internet sellers probably won’t be around much longer.

What is one thing you would like to see changed in the industry with regards to mobility scooter safety?

Aaron Sverdloff: I think the easiest one would be for the manufacturers to build in safety systems.

Graham Johnson: Gavin’s ‘Scoota-safe’ initiative is fantastic. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Gavin Thompson: For me, the issue is that there is no regulation on the internet. People will window shop us, come in, try the scooter on the test track and they’ll go and buy it online.

Giles Donald: I think we’ve got to all launch initiatives that drive the end-user to want to engage with scooter safety. If it’s coming from the top-down it won’t work. We need to make end-users want to be a part of it, we need to drive initiatives that make safety courses appeal to them.

Darren Macey, Lifestyle & Mobility, takes a proactive approach to scooter safety.

Michelle Mossford: We do our proficiency courses for free. We started them about four years ago and we didn’t even have sales in mind. It was all about advice and making people safer. And actually, at every proficiency session we’ve ended up selling at least one scooter.

Richard Holland-Oakes: The next stage is to bring the manufacturers on-board. They need to be on the same page. I really don’t think this discussion should just fizzle out. We’ve got to get some sort of result.

Duncan Gillett: Today, it should come across loud and clear that insurance should be compulsory. I think that is one thing we can all agree on. The insurers can then make various other bits as a bolt on to that. I don’t see how there can ever be a resistance to insurance.

Warrington Disability Partnership runs an organised safety scheme.

Mike Holborn: I very much like the idea of linking a standardised proficiency test to the insurance and giving them a discount.

Graham Johnson: [Warrington Disability Partnership] is already doing the test. Why not use that and support the charity at the same time?

Matt Cook: I think there’s a long way to go until compulsory insurance. If you’re making it compulsory on a scooter then where do you stop? It would have to be on other vehicles like bikes, for example. We would like to see some kind of standardised assessment but I don’t know who would govern it. Ultimately, compulsory insurance doesn’t solve the end goal of making the user a better driver.

For 40 years, Fish Insurance has been providing specialist insurance in the UK to those with pre-existing medical conditions, mobility issues and disabilities. Today it is trusted with looking after over 80,000 insurance policies, making it one of the UK’s biggest disability and independent living insurance providers, covering everything from manual chairs and scooters to stairlifts, hoists and WAVs. 

Tags : ability mattersableworldclearwell mobilitydisability trading companyfish insurancelifestyle & mobilitylifestyle and mobilitymobility scootermobility scooter safetyRecarescooter safetywarrington disability partnershipwheelfreedom
Joe Peskett

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