Rather like cars, most mobility scooter controls work in similar ways but with certain differences between makes and models and just like cars, there will be some which feel more comfortable or intuitive to you than others.
Nothing beats sitting on a scooter and checking how the controls look and feel before you decide, but before you get to that stage, let’s explore some of the common controls you are likely to encounter, the general layout of controls and how they may differ, with consideration for how those controls may be suitable for certain types of disability. There is also a look at some aspects of mobility scooter controls to consider before buying.
Different types of mobility scooter controls
All mobility scooters, whether class 2 (4mph pavement vehicles) or class 3 (8mph road going vehicles) will have a few basic controls as standard, starting with an on/off switch, sometimes operated by a key. When the power is turned on, a battery indicator will show you the state of the battery. This might be a conventional analogue dial, a series of coloured LEDs or a liquid crystal display. There is also usually an obvious dial switch which allows you to set the maximum speed of the vehicle; you might wish to reduce this, for example, if the terrain is uneven or you are in a busy shopping centre. Being battery powered, the acceleration can be controlled by a simple lever (which adjusts a variable resistor allowing more electricity through to drive the wheels). Push it one way to go forward, the other way to reverse. When released, the lever will return to the default position and the scooter will stop, which is why most smaller scooters do not have a separate brake.
In addition to the basic mobility scooter controls, class 3 vehicles are required by law to have additional features to make them roadworthy (some of these features may also be found on some class 2 scooters but are not necessarily requirements). Class 3 mobility scooter controls include indicators, an audible horn, and front and rear lights and reflectors. Class 3 scooters must also have a switch to toggle between 8mph road operation and 4mph pavement use. They will also have an emergency brake lever and mirrors.
Choosing a mobility scooter based on a disability
You won’t be surprised to learn that designers of mobility scooters try to make the controls as easy and intuitive as possible to use. Nevertheless, we are all different and you may find certain layouts or designs are more natural, comfortable and easy to use than others.
Steering handles may be straight or wrapped back on themselves in a D shape. Consider the size of these and the position of the accelerator lever and other switches. If you have small hands and or limited strength or movement, you will want those switches close enough and easy to operate. If you struggle with memory, you will want to be sure the controls are clearly labelled and intuitive to use. If your eyesight is poor, check you can easily read the display. Some controls are colour-coded which may help, but if you have poor colour vision this may not be the case. If your upper body mobility is impaired, you may want a scooter with an adjustable steering column which can be moved closer to you. Alternatively, you may prefer a powered wheelchair, which benefits from having joystick control rather than a steering column, which is ideal if your arm movement is minimal. These can be set on the left or right according to the user’s needs. Even if you have decided on a class 2 scooter, you may require some of the features usually found on class 3 scooters, for example, mirrors will make it easier to check behind you if you have difficulty turning your back or neck and indicators may save you having to hold a hand out to signal your intentions to others.
Things to check and ask when buying a mobility scooter
Before you try out possible scooters, here are a few questions you might want to consider about mobility scooter controls. If the scooter has an ignition key, make sure you can comfortably turn it without difficulty. It might be harder if your hands are cold, can you turn it with gloves on? If it has an ignition switch, does it also have a ‘power on’ indicator? If you forget to switch it off, it could drain the battery. Make sure the other controls are comfortable to operate as well. Can you adjust the speed control knob easily? Are the steering bars comfortable to hold and can you turn it, fully in both directions, without undue strain? ‘D’ shaped handles may be better for users with shorter arms or reduced movement. Straight handlebars may feel more natural and give more room for the larger user. Can you easily reach all the controls and easily identify what they do? Would you be better off with a joystick control on a powered wheelchair instead of a scooter? Check if you can operate the seat and tiller adjustments if fitted. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many features which may not come as standard on a particular model may be available as an optional extra. It never hurts to ask. As much as we’ve tried to address most common considerations, with a variety of makes and models of a scooter, and an even wider variety of humans, there’s no substitute for getting hands-on with the real thing.
Related: Mobility Scooter Checklist