For a lot of people driving an electronic wheelchair or electric scooter is the only way they can actually move around. Those who have to make use of these means of transport will surely know what it's like to drive on the public road. Impracticable footpaths and zebra crossings sometimes appear to be impossible obstacles. When you wonder where to drive your scooter on the public road, any possible answer might seem weird. And when last month Minister Marc Verwilghen let the public know that drivers of elektronic wheelchairs and electric scooters have to get a "car insurance", reactions of disbelief were manifold.
During a KVG meeting (Catholic Association for Disabled Persons) with sp.a (socialist) representatives Greet van Gool and Anne-Marie Baeke the issues met by wheelchair users were addressed. They committed themselves to do something about this situation. In fact, the problems wheelchair users experience are so diverse that only two themes were picked out for further scrutiny. We chose in the first place to achieve more clarity as to the position of wheelchair users in traffic and to the insurability of electronic wheelchairs and electric scooters. Two problems only, indeed, but they surely are points of great uncertainty and confusion. And users certainly have a right to certainty and clarity! What are the problems at hand and where do we stand in seeking solutions?
Wheelchairs and traffic
On January 1 2004 the new traffic law came into force. Persons making use of an electronic wheelchair or an electric scooter have to abide at that moment by a series of rules that at first sight don't seem to be very logical. For instance, this laws states that wheelchairs that can travel at a higher speed than a walking person should drive on the bicycle lane. But most people seldom drive their electronic wheelchair under full throtle and are often accompanied by a partner, an elder, … just walking along.
During a consultation with Greet van Gool and people working in the administration and the office of Minister of Mobility Renaat Landuyt a proposal of adaptation of the law was discussed: let the persons using an electronic wheelchair or an electric scooter occupy the public space they should occupy at that particular time. Example: when an electronic wheelchair isn't driving any faster than walking speed, even though it actually can, it should be allowed to drive on the footpath. This proposal has still a long way to go before it can turn into a law. Once this happens you will read about it in this magazine.
Wheelchairs and insurances
On February 15 sp.a representative Greet van Gool presented a parliamentary question to Minister of Economy Marc Verwilghen about the insurability of electronic wheelchairs and electric scooters.
The minister replied that according to the insurance law every vehicle powered by a motor is labeled as a motor vehicle and as a result every driver of such a vehicle has to have a civil liability insurance for motor vehicles. The same applies to electronic wheelchairs and electric scooters used for transport by people with a disability.
And the Minister concludes with the words "the law may be hard, but it is the law".
As members of KVG we would like to plead for an adaptation of the law. In traffic the majority of the people who use an electronic wheelchair or an electric scooter act like pedestrians. In an electronic wheelchair one makes use of the footpath, crosses the street at the zebra crossing, drives slowly, … We think that a person driving an electronic wheelchair or electric scooter couldn't possibly cause more damage than a pedestrian. Why do they have to have an insurance as if they were driving a motorcycle or any other motor vehicle?
We made this point together with the other user's organizations during a meeting with Greet van Gool. In the meantime a consultation with Minister Verwilghen has been planned. We are working on this issue and will not fail to report back to the public.
Bron: Rosie ROOTHANS
Translation: André De Laet