Electric Mobility Scooters (EMS) offer short-range transport for seniors, handicapped, and others who enjoy the convenience of wheeled transportation. Choose from a variety of comfortable adult assistive devices with an assortment of options, colors, and capabilities to meet individual needs and lifestyle requirements. Select between folding portable options to heavy-duty models that have all-terrain capabilities. There is even a fully-enclosed model that can protect against inclement weather. Below are quick links to some useful sections.
Electric mobility scooters meet the transport needs of mobility patients away from home and within their local communities. Similar to motorized wheelchairs, electric riding scooters provide a mobility solution to patients that have difficulty self-transporting from one location to another. Motorized wheelchairs, on the other hand, meet patient needs within their homes. EMS provides extended range and safer transport over sidewalks and, in some cases, the sides of streets. They offer transport to shopping, visit friends, enjoying local parks, and completing doctor appointments. For many patients, these devices are not merely a mode of transportation but stand as an embodiment of personal autonomy and independence. They also relieve caregivers from having to transport the mobility patient to where they need to go.1
EMS are battery-powered assistive devices designed to support those with "limitations and to facilitate their transport in both indoor and outdoor environments. The standard features of an... [EMS] device include battery power, a platform with space for the feet and a seat, handlebars (tiller) for steering, and two throttle levers attached to both sides of the tiller for moving... in the forward or backward direction. Braking is achieved by releasing the lever and allowing the electromagnetic brake to engage."2
Users choose scooters instead of wheelchairs because they find them easier to use and more comfortable. They also indicate that they would not make the same excursions without their use. They can travel to more locations, complete more daily tasks, and maintain their independence and quality of life. Users of these devices find that their ability to move about, socialize, feelings of autonomy, self-esteem and safety increased due to using one of these devices. In addition, users can participate in a broader range of activities without adverse outcomes.3
The use of EM] "by older people is an emerging social, health, transport, and safety phenomenon. [EMS], which are known by various names including 'motorized wheelchairs' and 'powered mobility devices' are battery-powered, have a seat over a platform, three or four wheels and controls on a front column (tiller) that enables manual steering."4
Government and Restrictions
These powered assistive devices fall into two categories based upon vehicle size and motor power, as described below.
Class 2 EMS are smaller, more lightweight, and compact. They offer easy handling and convenient storage. EMS in this class can be folded or dismantled for transport in the trunk of a car. They are appropriate for indoor use (such as shopping malls and public transportation) and limited outdoor use.
Class 3 EMS are larger vehicles used outdoors. These vehicles include safety features such as lights, reflectors, a horn, and side mirrors. The top speed must not exceed 20 mph, and the battery-powered motor should not exceed 750 watts. At present, most countries consider EMS riders and drivers as pedestrians. In most cases, these devices operate on sidewalks and pedestrian paths, not on roads. Some areas allow road use for vehicles with the safety features mentioned above. Some state laws further restrict EMS, notably California and New York.5,6
Attempts by some legislatures and local governments to restrict and regulate motor size and speed of these devices and limiting their use to specific pathways carries many risks. These measures bring consequences that reduce the effectiveness of the assistive devices to navigate steep terrain and long distances. Rather than restricting EMS usage, "resources would be much better spent on making cities 'smarter' and more sensitive to all citizens' needs. Otherwise, transport disruptions are inevitable."7
Medical studies find that the most common reason to obtain an e scooter is to offset walking difficulty or declining health.8 According to the US Census Bureau, 40% of people 65 years and older have a disability to include difficulty with walking and climbing stairs. The population of older citizens will double by 2060, increasing the number of seniors requiring transport assistance.9
Many people perceive driving not merely as a mode of transportation but as an integral part of independence and welfare. Driving cessation due to physical or cognitive decline can make daily life more challenging and undermine individual autonomy and sense of well being. Seniors are not the only ones affected by the loss of mobility. Family members and caregivers become burdened by the need to transport those who have diminished mobility.10
Some physicians and especially therapists are hesitant to prescribe an EMS for elderly ambulation, indicating a fear that further disability will result from patients decreasing the use of their limbs. They feel that atrophy is a likely result of battery-powered device use. However, studies find that when using these devices, patients actually increase their activity levels. Assistive devices provide more access to activities with less pain. The level of pain patients feel is more indicative of their activity level rather than their dependence upon assistance. By decreasing the pain associated with movement, more activity on the part of the user is likely.11,12,13,14
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes EMS as "assistive technology." The organization encourages the development and use of these devices to "encourage the inclusion of people with disabilities in society." WHO defines these devices "as 'any piece of equipment, or product, whether it is acquired commercially, modified, or customized, … used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.' Mobility devices… facilitate or enhance a user's… mobility - this relates to their ability to change and maintain body position and walk and move from one place to another. Common examples include crutches, walking frames, wheeled walkers, wheelchairs (manual and powered), tricycles, scooters, orthoses such as calipers, braces and splints, and prostheses such as artificial legs…."
WHO further indicates that these devices "reduce the need for formal support services as well as reduce the time and physical burden for caregivers. The use of [EMS], in particular, creates opportunities for education and work and contributes to improved health and quality of life. [EMS] may also have an impact on the prevention of falls, injuries, further impairments, and premature death. Investment in the provision of [EMS] can reduce health-care costs and economic vulnerability, and increase productivity and quality of life."15
EMS "were initially created for people with mobility, cardiac, breathing, and neural disabilities. However, in recent years, their use has expanded, and are becoming more popular. Due to advances in technology, ... [EMS can] bridge the first- and last-mile gap (thus increasing accessibility to public transportation), improve people's mobility, and reduce congestion and vehicle emissions by substituting for automobile travel. As more innovative... technologies [deploy], they will provide more transportation options for people with... disabilities, public transport users, and those wanting to maintain an active lifestyle."
Types of Mobility Scooters
3- and 4-Wheel Mobility Scooters
Power scooters are available in two different versions—3 and 4-wheel adult scooters. The 3-wheel mobility devices are more lightweight, making them easier to lift to a car trunk. They offer a tight turning radius for better maneuverability in congested areas. They provide easier portability and smaller transport size. On the other hand, 4-wheel mobility aids offer more stability and durability. Four-wheelers are sturdy over rugged terrain and provide the best and most comfortable ride outdoors.
These mobility scooters qualify as a portable scooter for elderly users when the device can fit in the trunk of a car. Some travel scooters are too large for a car trunk but tow on a trailer or an attached hitch. Not considered portable, towed devices are, however, transportable. Portable devices are available in both 3- and 4-wheel versions. Many EMS dismantle while others fold to reduce in size to fit in an automobile trunk. The dismantling devices are usually heavier transports that breakdown into more lightweight lifting sizes. The foldable portable scooters for adults have a hinge that allows the device to close down. Some new models fold and unfold from battery power with the touch of a button or a remote.
Bariatric devices have heavy-duty construction to provide increased weight-bearing. Most of these aids support over 300-pounds. They offer wider and more comfortable seating that swivels to allow easier access and egress. Typically these devices have full suspension and pneumatic tires for a more comfortable ride. Because they are more comfortable, many people choose to purchase a heavy-duty EMS even though they may not require the extra weight capacity.
Recreation EMS vehicles add more capabilities and fun to an assistive device. These devices often travel at faster speeds, have extended battery ranges, possess better suspension, and have more color options. They take boring transport and convert it into an experience. Recreational devices also add additional features, such as all-terrain capabilities, weather protection, sporty design, and enhanced braking. An all-terrain scooter usually offers more ground clearance, wider tires, and better suspension to meet the demands of more rugged landscapes.
iRide Folding - is compact and easy to navigate. It comes with a removable seat and a fold-down tiller.
eWheels EW-19 - comes with a sporty design that includes headlight, tail-light, disc brakes, and storage.
Enduro All-Terrain - navigates over rugged landscapes, including grass, gravel, and dirt roads. It comes with a captain's seat, delta tiller, headlight, tail-light, and turn signals.
EW-54 Buggy - offers protection against rain with a windshield and top canopy. The seat is fully adjustable, and the motor is high performance.
Shoprider Flagship - provides year-round travel in a fully enclosed cabin with locking doors.
Two-Person Scooters provide for two riders. Some have a single, extra-wide seat or bench seat to accommodate two passengers, some have two seats in tandem with one rider behind the other, and others have two bucket-style seats side-by-side.
AfiScooter S3 Breeze - has an optional extra-wide seat of 33-inches for carrying one large person or two people. A canopy is also optional.
Selecting the Best Mobility Scooter
As shown in the continuum above, 3-wheel scooters typically are less expensive than 4-wheel. The specialty assistive aids (heavy-duty, recreational, auto-folding, etc.) tend to cost more. Portable options are available in both 3-wheel and 4-wheel models. In the features section of the graphic, better performance features cost more and tend to favor the 4-wheel options. However, there are 3-wheel versions with exceptional motor performance and range, but they too tend to fall in a higher price range. Below are more details regarding selection factors and accessory items that add more safety and function to mobility scooters.
Mobility Scooters Selection Factors
The ability to control the assistive device in tight spaces is critical for most seniors and mobility challenged individuals. Users often find themselves in crowds, narrow hallways, doorways, and shopping isles. The capability to make sharp turns and steer around obstacles is critical.
The radius is a measurement of how many inches it takes to complete a 360-degree turn. The smaller the number of inches, the better. Some models can achieve a turn in less than 22-inches while others take more than 60-inches. Selecting a device that can execute tight turns when in congested areas may be significant for most.
Having a reverse gear to allow the scooter to backup when needed can also be a critical need. Many assistive device users find that negotiating shopping aisles can be tricky without this important feature. Reverse gear can compensate significantly for an EMS that has a large turning radius. When choosing a model that has a large turning radius, it would be wise to ensure that the device, at a minimum, has a reverse gear to mitigate the diminished change in direction capability of the larger sized vehicles.
Mobility Scooters that offer robust handling can be essential. As seniors continue to age, it becomes more valuable to have a comfortable ride and a safe ride on a stable assistive device. Four-wheel scooters for elderly operators offer more stability than a 3-wheel adult scooter. Adding anti-tippers can also help to increase safe maneuverability.
The more watt capability the motor has, the better the performance. Superior motor functioning allows for better climbing and higher speeds, but at the cost of more battery power. A dependable motor requires an excellent battery to sustain the motorized scooter and its capabilities.
Most users will encounter steep grades that require climbing to get where they are going. Climbing uphill happens on city streets as well as ramps to bypass stairways. When purchasing a device, ensure it will climb the anticipated grades. The weight the mobility scooter will carry is also an important consideration—the more weight, the better the performance of the motor required to meet the increased load.
The distance the EMS has to travel is another consideration. The longer the length, the higher the requirement for improved battery performance. Short distances are easy for most mobility devices. Longer distances, however, require a more stout battery capability.
Not many users want to putter along to get where they are heading. Most prefer a decent rate of speed that is still safe. Speeds range from a low of 3.5 miles per hour (mph) up to 15 mph. A slow mobility scooter can take nearly five times as long to get to your destination as a faster one. Generally, the longer the distance to cover, the more increased need to have a faster device. Select the model that offers the speed needed for safe and timely transport.
The more weight the vehicle needs to carry, the more heavy-duty the scooter construction should be to handle the load. Also, the heavier the payload, the better the motor performance needs to be to climb steep grades.
Adjustable Steering Tiller
Tillers come in two options--a standard handlebar tiller or a Delta tiller. Both types of tillers utilize thumb levers to control the throttle. The Delta tiller employs a rectangular style handle that provides a resting bar for the user's wrists to minimize strain. Left or right-handed operation takes place with either tiller design. The Delta tiller is most helpful to users that have limited dexterity or diminished hand and arm strength.
The size of the seat is a valuable consideration for reducing fatigue. The smaller the seat size, the more fatigue to the user. The larger the seat size, the more comfort provided to the user. The heavy-duty EMS tends to have the best seat sizes with ample cushioning for the most comfortable rides.
Adjustable seats provide more comfort to the user. The best seats are those that adjust in height and have forward and backward adjustability. Many manufacturers also offer swivel seats that make it easier to get on and off the EMS.
Some vehicles offer front suspension to make steering smoother. Others offer both front and rear suspension for an even softer and more comfortable ride. The heavy-duty and the all-terrain scooters usually provide this feature.
Scooters with pneumatic tires provide the best rides. They absorb more shock from the road or sidewalk surfaces to furnish a more comfortable ride for the user. Wider wheels and tires also offer more stability and the best performance.
Having ample storage is a significant factor. It is not safe to operate an assistive device while trying to hold or carry something along with you. Many 3-wheelers and 4-wheelers offer some storage capacity. Baskets are popular because they are less expensive and easy to attach to the front or rear of the device. Storage under the seat or along the tiller is also popular. Some vehicles come with discreet storage that keeps items you carry hidden from observation. A few devices have locking storage to protect valuables. Accessory saddlebags and backpacks may supplement scooters with inadequate storage.
Most brakes on EMS are mechanical to save money and to keep the cost down. The best braking systems are hydraulic disc brakes and electromagnetic brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes offer a softer braking feel and better stopping power. Similar to most modern cars, hydraulic disc brakes on EMS are a superb choice.
New electromagnetic brakes also offer several advantages. A list of these advantages and disadvantages are below:
Additional wheels extended from the frame of the vehicle serve as anti-tipping devices to keep the EMS upright. Some anti-tippers come standard on EMS. Or add them after the purchase.19
Restraint devices can aid help patients to stay secured in their seats while maneuvering. Many employ the same buckling system found in automobiles. Other safety straps that hold the toro in place may also add safety by maintaining the user's posture to prevent slipping.
Headlights, Tail Lights, and Turn Signals
Headlights help increase the visibility of obstacles during limited visibility. Tailights serve to identify a slower moving vehicle to other pedestrians and motor vehicles and provide a warning when engaging the brakes. Turn signals allow the user to give notice to nearby traffic as to the intentions of the operator.
Rear View Mirrors
Mirrors allow the user to observe traffic behind the battery-powered vehicle without having to turn their head. This safety item is essential for street use.
Knowing the amount of battery power remaining is critical for users that venture at distances from their homes. A stalled vehicle because of battery exhaustion is not a pleasant experience for anyone. These indicators notify the user of how much battery life remains and when it is time to return home for a recharge.
Faster devices that negotiate streets should have a way to measure speed. Some jurisdictions require a speedometer to operate on city streets.
Like the battery indicator, an odometer is useful for operators to determine the limits on the distance away from home. Manufactures of mobility devices publish the range of the vehicle, thereby allowing a user to judge the distance they can travel away from home.
Some manufacturers have a better reputation than others for making quality and durable products. These reputations form after years of refining and responding to user needs and warranty claims.
On occasions, government interventions on behalf of consumers direct a manufacturer to recall defective products. Less often, a manufacturer recalls its products on its initiative. The number of recalls and whether the manufacturer performed the recall on its own speaks volumes on the reliability of the manufacturer's products.
Example: Type "Golden Technologies Scooter Recalls" into the Google search bar. The results show the Buzzaround LX with front and rear lockup problems. It appears that the recall was initiated by the FDA.
Reviews by consumers of the product can be beneficial to determine the reliability and functionality of a contemplated purchase. To find reviews, shoppers can type the name of the device into the Google search bar along with the word "review." Google will serve up several assessments from different websites to help get a better feel for the product. Another search on bbb.com may reveal additional problems with a manufacturer or the product. An A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau is a good indicator that the manufacturer is likely to make good on any defective product.
Example: Type "Review Drive Spitfire Scout" in the Google search bar to see numerous reviews of this product.
Example: Type "Drive Medical" into the bbb.com search to see that Drive Medical has an A+ rating.
Manufacturers that have confidence in their product tend to offer a better warranty service than others who do not. The level and length of the warranty demonstrate the amount of effort by the manufacturer to make a durable product.
Cup holder - attach to the handlebar to provide convenient access to cups, mugs, water bottles, etc.
Cell phone holder - allows you to keep your smartphone handy and to use navigational aids. Some models also have a USB port to provide for charging phones.
Oxygen tank holder - users dependent upon oxygen can carry their oxygen tank with them while scooting.
Cane holder - users that will be leaving their EMS behind when entering a building can have their cane ready for use.
Walker holder - a EMS user may require a walker when leaving their device behind. Carrying the walker along with them, is essential.
Baskets - provide an easy way to carry along items required when reaching the users' destination.
Arm saddlebag - another handy storage device that attaches to the arm of the chair.
Rear seat backpack - these backpacks allow convenient storage that is out of the way while traveling.
Lockbox - valuables can be safely locked away and kept out of sight of prying eyes.
Canopy - canopies provide partial protection against sun, rain, and snow.
Storage cover - covers offer protection for the device when parked outside.
Ramps - provide access to raised entrances and over barriers like stairs.
Lifts - a scooter lift also provides safe access for EMS and occupants to a raised entrance.
Trailer - attaching a small trailer to a EMS offers additional carry-along items.
Top Ten Brands
Pride Jazzy Zero Turn - 4-wheeler available in six colors that disassembles for auto transport. It has a short turning radius of 38.25-inches.