Electric Scooter/Wheelchair Safety

“Enjoy the Ride, but Use Precautions.”
March 19, 2012

For those of us with walking problems, using an electric scooter or wheelchair is liberating. What an invention! I started using a scooter only four years after I was diagnosed with MS. My poor balance and leg weakness limited my walking time to about one-half hour. Lucky for me, the electric scooter was a new device at that time.
That was twenty-five years ago. I know more about buying and using scooters than I know about cars. I had my scooters everywhere from climbing up the Mayan ruins at Tulum, Mexico to driving down the trails at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. I used to do wheelies on them. I drive them everywhere, every day on dirt, gravel, grass and pavement hauling groceries home and clipping bushes. So I am really good at operating them.

But I became too confident. I was flying down the street last week walking my 70-lb. dog when I navigated the curb-cut wrong. Over I went, wiping out right onto the street. The scooter pinned me to street, and I laid there for five minutes before a neighbor and two guys in trucks stopped and picked me up.

Fortunately I didn’t get hurt, but that was a wakeup call for me to be careful and not take risks. I should have known better after all these years.

When I was lying on the ground waiting for help to arrive, I thought how lucky I was that it was March and not August. I live in the desert. Last year, a local woman on a scooter wasn’t paying attention and drove off a curb. The asphalt that she was laying on was so hot she received third degree burns. That same month, a guy in a power chair accidently drove himself into a swimming pool.

It’s no different than driving and texting; all it takes is one moment off guard. So safety rule #1 is to pay attention and watch out for yourself at all times.

Safety rule #2 is to watch out for other people, especially kids. This is a rule new drivers or part-time time chair users forget about because they are trying to concentrate on their own driving skills.

Many people are so busy doing their own thing they are not looking out for you. I can’t even begin to count the times people walked into me. I yell, beep my horn, or make a last-ditch effort to maneuver out of their way but it still happens. It doesn’t matter if I am in a parked position or riding slowly going with the flow of people traffic. It will still happen.

If I am in a store turning into another aisle, I creep slowly and stick my head around the corner before I proceed on. A collision with a person or another scooter can be embarrassing or anger someone but, the more important issue is to avoid somebody getting hurt.

I avoid very crowded events or stores when I can, because I am so occupied trying to drive carefully and dodge others I can’t enjoy myself. Sometimes during holiday seasons, merchandise in stores is packed too closely together. Managers need to be alerted to this. Once, the cane holder on the back of my scooter caught onto a security chain of a rack of expensive furs and the entire rack tumbled down. Oh well…

The next rule is when you are at an intersection, crossing a street, parking lot, etc., always make eye contact before you proceed—with everyone around you. It doesn’t matter whether you have the right-of-way or not. It’s called defense driving in driving school. This sounds so common sense that someone reading this may scoff at what I am writing. But again, so many people on the road are not paying attention.

If you get caught in the rain while out on your electric mobility unit, make sure the controls do not get wet. It could cause a malfunction. In my case when this happened, instead of my scooter ‘konking’ out, the panel froze and I couldn’t get the scooter to stop. If you are out on a day that looks like rain, carry a plastic bag to cover the controls until you get under cover.

When I order either a new scooter or electric wheelchair, I make sure I get solid tires. Although pneumatic tires will give a smoother ride, getting a flat tire is no fun. For full-time electric chair/scooter users, this equipment is our legs; a flat tire means no mobility until it’s fixed.

Sadly, there are many thieves in this world, and those of us in wheelchairs are easy targets. Besides a cell phone, I carry only a hidden credit card and no cash. If I am out some place where I need a purse, I loop the handle around the tiller of the scooter and am careful about what is contained my purse.

People feel differently about methods of self defense, but when I am walking the dog in the neighborhood, I carry a billy club and hornet spray. Occasionally there are stray dogs and coyotes that roam. Though I’ve never come close enough to a roaming animal to use one of them, it’s reassuring to know that I have something to quickly grab and protect myself and my dog if the need arises.

Finally, annual maintenance checks on equipment are a must. It’s the same principle as when a car is owned. Prevent a problem before it happens to alleviate the possibility of getting stuck or broken down.

Happy trails to you!

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