Drink-driving doesn’t really seem like a legal grey area, but it can be. Namely, if you’re driving a mobility scooter.
An Australian senate inquiry is currently looking into whether police should be cracking down on these 10-kilometre-an-hour electric wheelchairs after a number of submissions raised “serious concerns about mobility scooter drivers being affected by drugs or alcohol when travelling on roads or footpaths”.
The fear, essentially, is this: people are motoring down to the pub on their scooter, getting too drunk and/or high to drive, then tearing off down the footpath, past the RBTs, and through the eye of a cheeky legal loophole on their way home.
According to the ABC, Deputy local controller of the NSW State Emergency Service in Ballina, Charles Nicholson, went so far as to allege that some “deliberately use a motorised mobility scooter to specifically drive to hotels and registered clubs to drink alcohol and drive home on the footpath under the belief that they will not be stopped or breathalysed by police.” And indeed, Nationals Senator John Williams claims police are becoming frustrated at their inability to enforce proper legal penalties on scooter drivers.
Since standard mobility scooters are usually unable to exceed speeds of 10 kilometres per hour, those driving them are technically classified as pedestrians rather than motorists in states like New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, and therefore subject to the same laws as those travelling on foot. They can use shared footpaths and don’t need a driver’s license. And that means they can also rocket down the sidewalk blitzed out of their mind without being pulled over by highway patrol.
Part of the senate inquiry is considering whether this needs to change: whether scooter drivers should be forced to register their vehicles, get insurance, and apply for a licence. But there is also the worry among human rights advocacy groups that further regulation could discriminate against disabled and elderly Australians.
Senator Williams’ appeal to have the speed limit reduced to six kilometres per hour was knocked back after the inquiry heard evidence that scooter riders should be able to choose their own speed. Others, meanwhile, argued that scooter-related collisions were not the sole responsibility of the drivers, and that maybe everyone else should just get the hell out of their way.
"Stakeholders argued that pedestrians not watching where they are going, people texting or talking on phones, bicycles and skateboards travelling too fast, and vehicles blocking footpaths can also pose a danger," the inquiry report found.
Give the drunk oldies a break, in other words. They’re just living their best lives and trying to get home.