Watch out for scooters, other personal-mobility craft

Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.

Electrically powered chairs and mobility scooters are a common sight around area roads.

Earlier this month an 86-year-old woman was injured when an SUV hit her scooter in southwest Ocala.

The driver apparently didn’t see the personal mobility vehicle when she traversed an “unmarked crosswalk” in front of a shopping center, according to a Feb. 20 Star-Banner article.

The lightweight open power chairs and scooters, which typically travel from walk speed to about 9 mph, depending upon the model, cross paths with vehicles many times their size and weight.

Rubin Smith of Silver Springs Shores rides his power chair from his home in Lake Diamond to the Winn-Dixie store on Pine Road, a distance of several miles.

Smith, 53, said as he travels along the sidewalk on paralleling Pine Road, even at the crosswalks, cars often fail to stop to allow him to cross.

“People are generally courteous but some don’t necessarily stop,” he said. “I’m careful and I believe I’ll get a flag (for added visibility),” he said.

Richard Rumans, service manager with Watkins and Riggs Inc., a local provider of personal mobility equipment including power chairs and scooters, said the machines are “low profile” making them harder to see and less noticeable than full-sized cars and trucks.

“With ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) these (machines) are allowed wherever you can walk. They become your legs,” Rumans said

The ADA states in part that as of March 2011, state and local governmental entities and businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public “must allow people with disabilities who use manual or power wheelchairs or scooters, and manually-powered mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, and canes, into all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.”

Rumans recommends the vehicles not be used at night. He said drivers should wear bright safety vests while operating the vehicles, and attach tall, orange flags to them.

Ocala Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Brian Stoothoff said “darkness, especially when the time changes,” is a factor in some collisions between mobility machines and cars.

Pennie Watkins, of Watkins and Riggs, added some models now have emergency-style flashers as well as lights, which increase their visibility.

Both Rumans and Watkins indicated safe operation of the machines around cars requires that the users consider themselves walkers rather than drivers of a vehicle.

Ocala Police Department Officer Brennan Grady with the Traffic Unit said the traffic rules for chair and scooter operators are “the same rules as (for) pedestrians.”

Grady said power chair and scooter operators should not travel on the roadway but should use pedestrian crosswalks the same as foot traffic.

Motorists are required to yield to pedestrians attempting to cross at designated, marked crosswalks but pedestrians trying to cross at random areas must yield to traffic, Grady said.

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