RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Regulations 1996
I, Olivia McTaggart, Coroner, having investigated the death of
An elderly gentleman
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
The deceased died on 17 November 2006 at the Royal Hobart Hospital, Liverpool Street, Hobart.
The deceased was born in Queenstown, Tasmania and was aged 90 years.
The deceased was a widow and was a retired fitter and turner.
I find that the deceased died as a result of head injuries sustained in a collision with a motor vehicle whilst he was riding his motorised scooter.
CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATH:
In about 2000 the deceased purchased his “Plega” Voyager Mobility Scooter. Its maximum speed was between 8.5 and 9.2km/h. The deceased suffered ischaemic heart disease and weakness in the legs caused by peripheral neuropathy and poor arterial circulation.
The purchase of the scooter was a private one, and not facilitated or monitored by any government agency or other organisation. Whilst the scooter came with general written safety instructions and warnings, the deceased was not required to have a licence, undergo training or pass any test to operate the scooter.
A motorised scooter is not classed as a “motor vehicle” under traffic regulations and is not required to be registered. A person riding a motorised scooter is classified under traffic regulations as a “pedestrian” and is required to obey pedestrian laws. In particular the scooter is to be driven on footpaths and subject to pedestrian rules for crossing roads.
Since his purchase of the scooter the deceased used it extensively. The evidence from many witnesses overwhelmingly demonstrates, however, that he did not use it in a responsible manner.
He rode mainly on roads rather than footpaths and had little regard for traffic. He generally did not use designated pedestrian crossings and rode too fast for safety. He was frequently advised by his doctors and health workers to slow down on his scooter and be more aware of pedestrians.
On Friday 17 November 2006 the deceased had been riding his scooter in Salamanca Place in Hobart. At approximately 1:43pm the deceased stopped at the intersection of Salamanca Place and Davey Street, intending to cross the road in a westerly direction.
The deceased then started to cross Davey Street in the face of traffic. At the time the level of traffic was medium to heavy. The point of the deceased’s crossing was not controlled by pedestrian lights. Given the lack of pedestrian control and the traffic volume it was inappropriate, and possibly in breach of traffic regulations, for the deceased to cross at that point.
Davey Street is a major thoroughfare for Hobart connecting the city to the Huon areas as well as Fern Tree and Mt Wellington. It is divided into four southbound lanes and runs in a north/south direction.
As the deceased crossed Davey Street the vehicles being driven within the first three lanes either slowed or came to a complete stop, narrowly avoiding the deceased. However, the vehicle in the fourth lane closest to the Commonwealth Law Courts building did not stop and collided with the deceased.
The vehicle in the fourth lane involved in the crash was a Toyota Corolla 4 door Hatch.
The deceased’s scooter made contact with the front passenger side of the vehicle. As a result of the crash, the deceased was thrown from his scooter onto the road surface. The scooter sustained severe damage due to the impact.
The deceased was treated at the scene by Tasmanian Ambulance Service personnel before being conveyed to the Royal Hobart Hospital where he died as a result of the injuries which he sustained in the accident.
At the time of the accident the weather was fine and the roadway dry. The sun was high in the sky and would not have posed any problem for traffic or the deceased. I am satisfied that weather conditions did not contribute to the crash.
The roadway consists of four marked lanes, is made of bitumen and is in good condition. The road is straight in the area of the crash I am satisfied that neither the nature nor the condition of the roadway itself was a contributory factor in this accident.
A transport inspection was completed on both Toyota Corolla 4 door Hatch and the deceased’s scooter and both were assessed as being mechanically sound prior to the accident.
The driver of the Toyota submitted to a blood test after the accident which returned a negative result for drugs or alcohol. A blood test of the deceased detected prescription drugs consistent with his medical treatment and a negative result for alcohol.
The speed limit for this area is 60km/h. A speed analysis was calculated and found that the driver of the Toyota was travelling at a speed of approximately 38km/h.
During his interview, the driver of the Toyota stated that he heard a squeal of brakes followed by a bang. The driver stated that he did not see the deceased prior to the accident. However the evidence of his skid marks indicates that he had commenced braking before the crash, perhaps reacting to the movements of the vehicles in the other lanes.
Despite his relatively slow speed at the time of the accident, the driver of the Toyota’s vision was obstructed by the vehicles to his left which were travelling slightly faster than him. I am satisfied that the driver did not have the opportunity to see the deceased or stop his vehicle prior to the crash.
I am satisfied that a full and detailed investigation has been carried out in relation to the death of the deceased. The crash was also captured on the Court’s surveillance footage.
COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS:
Whilst his scooter undoubtedly gave the deceased a great deal of mobility, the evidence before me indicates that the manner in which he used it generally and also on the day of his death, presented not only a risk to himself but to other pedestrians and road users.
I am satisfied that the deceased’s own actions in driving his scooter onto Davey Street in the face of traffic were the direct cause of his unfortunate death.
An increasing number of elderly citizens are now using motorised mobility scooters. As the Australian population ages the use of these scooters is likely to further increase as older persons strive to maintain active independent lifestyles.
These scooters weigh in the vicinity of 60kg. The added weight of the user results in a considerably weighty object capable of speeds of up to twice the average walking pace. It appears that some users, such as the deceased, may erroneously develop the belief that they are entitled to right of way whilst riding; or alternatively that riding a scooter affords them a greater protection from traffic than as a pedestrian on foot. There may also be a lack of appreciation of the danger to pedestrians of irresponsible riding.
Between 1 July 2000 and 17 May 2006 there were 30 deaths reported to a Coroner around Australia involving a motorised scooter. There was an increase in the number of deaths from 2003 onwards compared to previous years. Analysis of these deaths in an NCIS discussion paper indicated the following;
- The majority of deceased died either from colliding with another vehicle whilst riding the scooter or falling from the scooter
- Older persons are over represented in the deaths
- The majority of deaths were male
- The majority of incidents occurred on streets or highways
- The number of deaths is increasing over time
The NCIS discussion paper noted Statistics from the United States released in 2001 by the United States Consumer Product Safety commission regarding use of these scooters in that country. The research showed a 200% increase in scooter related injuries from 1999 to 2001.
The Monash University Accident Research Centre has also published research relating to scooter injuries. This research also indicates a significant increase in scooter injuries (as opposed to deaths) in Victoria, the frequency doubling between 2000/01 (22 cases) and 2004/2005 (41 cases).
On the 17th July 2006 Victorian State Coroner Graeme Johnstone circulated these research papers to all State Coroners and stated;
“it would appear this is now a developing issue of injury related death and may relate to issues such as design; training on practical use;standards;centralised agency control; lack of available safety information; use of helmets; etc.
I am concerned to let you know at this early stage about this developing trend which will obviously increase as the population ages and the use of the product spreads.”
I have not been able to determine with accuracy the number of motorised scooters currently in use in Tasmania. However there is every likelihood that Tasmania is following a similar trend regarding the increase in their use.
The death of the deceased highlights the need for serious and timely consideration and, if appropriate, action to be given to the safe use of motorised scooters in Tasmania in order to prevent or minimise the likelihood of further death and injury associated with their use.
Such steps may include;
(a) an assessment of the number of scooters in use in Tasmania, types of user and extent of use;
(b) establishment of roles and responsibilities of government agencies with respect to scooter safety, including which government agency should take the leading role;
(c) competency assessment and training for all potential users;
(d) surveys and research to better understand safety and design issues;
(e) investigating added safety features e.g., rollover protection and use of a brightly coloured flag at the rear of the scooter;
(f) consideration of the benefits of the wearing of personal protective equipment, such as seatbelts, helmets and gloves;
(g) conducting an awareness campaign focussing on safety, and the rights and responsibilities of users, for both the user and the general public;
(h) a consideration and implementation of a licensing, registration and compulsory insurance system;
(i) legislative restrictions upon use in certain road environments. 
In the meantime I strongly urge users of these scooters to be fully aware of safety when riding and employ common sense measures such as;
- ride always at a safe and moderate speed particularly in high pedestrian areas; and
- ride on the pedestrian footpaths and cross at designated pedestrian crossings or controlled intersections;
I conclude by conveying my sincere condolences to the deceased’s family.
DATED: Tuesday, 6th November 2007 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.
A copy of this finding has been sent to;
Minister for Infrastructure
Chair, Road Safety Council, Tasmania
Chair, Road Safety Task Force, Tasmania
General Manager, Land Transport Safety Division of the Department of Infrastructure, Energy & Resources
Motor Accidents Insurance Board
Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary, Department of Justice
Director, Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
National Coroners Information System
Aurora Disability Services
Paraquad Association of Tasmania
Tasmanians with Disabilities