Mobility Impaired

Mobility Impaired

How Effective?

Key Statistics

This section collates key statistics relating to mobility impaired drivers. Most data relates to the broader category of disabled drivers, and its derivation has to be carefully considered to extract mobility impaired sub-sets.

  • Across all age groups, individuals with mobility difficulties make significantly fewer trips per person per year.

(L. Avery, 2011)

Number of Drivers

  • It is estimated that of the 34 million licensed drivers in the UK in 2007, two million were licensed disabled drivers. In reaching this figure subsets of the DVLA database were selected which aligned closely with conditions linked to physical impairment:

    • Limb disability – static;
    • Multiple sclerosis;
    • Arthritis;
    • Parkinson’s;
    • Stroke;
    • Spinal injury;
    • Cerebral palsy; and,
    • Muscular dystrophy or atrophy.


  • The number of active disabled drivers in the UK was thought to be closer to 1.7 million (5 per cent). Note that these figures exclude temporarily mobility impaired drivers who, for example, may be pregnant or recovering from injuries.

(S. Tong et al., 2007)


  • The mean age of disabled drivers was 57 years.The ratio of male-to-female disabled drivers was 61:39.

(S. Tong et al., 2007)

Road Traffic Incidents

Only two studies were found which aligned statistics with road safety of mobility impaired drivers.

  • Involvement in RTIs (of all severities) in the preceding five years was estimated at 20 per cent of the disabled driver population. However, the study notes that, “No direct comparison could be made with accidents among non-disabled populations”. The estimated total number of RTIs involving disabled drivers over a five year period was 383,000.

  • Disability is not implied as a contributory factor in the RTIs described above. Disability as a contributory factor in fatal or injurious RTIs is recorded in between 0.1 and 0.3 per cent of instances. However, drivers with pre-existing medical conditions may be at higher risk of injury or death, and this component cannot be separated from the contributory factor records.

(S. Tong et al., 2007)

  • The risk of a disabled driver being involved in an RTI was not found to be statistically different from the risk posed by drivers in general.

(P. Henriksson and B. Peters, 2002)


  • Much of the data relating to vehicles for mobility impaired drivers is estimated and/or several years old, and as such should be treated with a degree of caution.

  • Problems with vehicle usage were reported by 36 per cent of surveyed disabled drivers. The most frequently reported problem related to access to or egress from the vehicle (23 per cent), followed by loading and storing equipment (14 per cent) and using primary controls (eight per cent). One or more vehicle adaptations were reported by 22 per cent of surveyed disabled drivers. Primary adaptations (i.e. modifications to steering, acceleration, braking) were reported by 19 per cent of surveyed disabled drivers.

(S. Tong et al., 2008)

  • It is estimated that there were 428,000 adapted vehicles in Great Britain in 2007. There were 37,000 licensed drivers restricted to using adapted vehicles.

(S. Tong et al., 2007)

  • When driving their adapted vehicles, 91 per cent of respondents to one survey in Sweden reported feeling safe or very safe; 95 per cent said their confidence was high or very high.

(P. Henriksson and B. Peters, 2002)

Mobility Scooters and Powered Wheelchairs

There are broad ranges of estimates relating to the number of mobility scooters in use in the UK. However, responses to a government consultation indicate a level of public concern surrounding their safe use.

  • Mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs are defined by law in two classes:

    • Class 2 - powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, intended for footpath or pavement use only with a maximum speed limit of 4 mph, maximum weight of 113.4kg; and,

    • Class 3 - powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, for use on the road, with a maximum speed limit of 8 mph but with the facility to travel at 4 mph on a footpath or pavement, maximum weight of 150kg.

  • A 2005 study identified a range of methods for estimating the number of mobility scooter or powered wheelchair users. Consequently, a broad range of estimates was given: of between approximately 40,000 and 100,000 mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs in use in the UK; a figure of around 90,000 was judged to be representative.

  • Powered scooters and powered wheelchairs were found to be most commonly used on pavements. However, 18.5 per cent of respondents said they used a Class 2 vehicle (intended for pavement use only) on the road every day.

  • Estimates on the ratio of powered wheelchairs to mobility scooters are more consistent: scooters out sell powered wheelchairs at a ratio of approximately 4:1. The UK market for mobility scooters is estimated at 25,000 vehicles per year.

(P. Barham et al., 2006)

  • Reporting for a parliamentary committee in 2010, a new estimate was given: 330,000 mobility scooter users in the UK.

(House of Commons Transport Committee, 2010)

  • Responding to a UK government consultation on mobility scooters:

    • 72 per cent of respondents supported introducing compulsory insurance;
    • 69 per cent of respondents supported introducing mandatory assessment of suitability to drive;
    • 64 per cent supported introducing mandatory driver training;
    • 62 per cent supported making vehicles and users more conspicuous.

(DfT, 2010)

Research Findings

Summaries of key findings and improvement interventions from several research reports are given below.

Highway design

  • Improved intersection design has been shown to reduce driving errors amongst older drivers, specifically positive offset of left-turn lanes and protected directional turn operations of traffic lights. (This is relevant if it can be assumed that functional impairment of some older drivers is representative of at least some mobility impaired drivers).

  • Other highway design interventions which are thought to improve safety for drivers with functional limitations include:

    • Conversion of intersections to roundabouts;
    • High contrast road markings;
    • Background plates for traffic signals;
    • Longer sighting distances;
    • Advance warning signs; and,
    • Protected directional turn traffic light operations.

(R. Davidse, 2007)

  • Highway design aimed specifically to address the needs of particular driver groups (e.g. older or mobility impaired) should also realise broader safety benefits for other road users.

(M. King, 2000)

  • Consultation with stakeholders highlighted that access to and use of Emergency Roadside Telephones is a significant concern for mobility impaired users of the Highways Agency’s network.

(HA, nd)


  • Restraints for wheelchair seated drivers are inconsistently used, owing to the bespoke nature of individual applications.

(M. Sword, 2007)

  • When learning to drive joystick-controlled adapted vehicles it has been shown that reducing time lag between joystick inputs and vehicle response is the key factor in ease of learning. (B. Peters and J. Ostlund, 2005)

  • In simulator trials systems such as adaptive cruise control have been shown to reduce the workload of mobility impaired drivers without reducing safety.

 (B. Peters, 2000)


  • Advice and training for users and purchasers of powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters was identified by focus group participants as a potentially effective safety intervention.

(P. Barham et al., 2006)

  • Road safety education for disabled people rarely extends beyond those with learning difficulties, or for pedestrian users (i.e. not mobility impaired drivers). Although there exist local and some national schemes (House of Commons Transport Committee, 2010), there is a shortage of provision and advice on a national basis. Some guidance is provided by the Highways Agency to customers.

(HA, nd)

How effective?

  • Training schemes for mobility scooter drivers, such as that provided by the Norfolk Constabulary, appear to have a positive effect on safe usage. However, this is based on anecdotal feedback rather than quantitative research.

(House of Commons Transport Committee, 2010)

Gaps in the research

  • Insufficient data exists relating to mobility impaired drivers, their level of driving, RTI involvement and degree to which their impairment has contributed to any RTIs. A relative lack of data makes it difficult to identify policy priorities and impossible to quantify risk.

(K. Williams et al., 2002; House of Commons Transport Committee, 2010; DfT, 2010)

  • Insufficient data exists relating to use of, and particularly RTIs involving, mobility scooters. The UK government is introducing measures to address this issue.

(House of Commons Transport Committee, 2010)

  • Insufficient data exists to determine whether road safety concerns are restricting the willingness of the mobility impaired population to drive.

  • There is very limited understanding of the effectiveness of education in reducing RTIs.

  • Date Added: 03 Apr 2012, 08:16 AM
  • Last Update: 01 May 2013, 05:44 PM