The Road Traffic Act (1988) currently bans children under 14 from using very technologically advanced wheelchairs – a ‘class three vehicle’ weighing up to 150kg. Wheelchairs heavier than 150kg are classed as cars, which users must theoretically be over 17 and have a driving licence to use.
Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children is calling on the Government to change this outdated law that is preventing disabled children from obtaining vital equipment.
Since 1988 wheelchair technology has improved greatly – accessories added to wheelchairs can make them lie flat, stand straight or rise and lower to suit the given environment. All these changes have inevitably caused an increased weight to the average chair.
Currently a wheelchair weighing more than the 150kg limit would be technically classified as a car. Users would therefore in theory have to meet statutory requirements for car ownership driving liscense, tax, insurance etc. Mirrors and lights would also have to be added. The Department for Transport has confirmed that any powered wheelchair weighing over 150kg is “non-compliant” and would be at risk of confiscation.
Newlife CEO, Sheila Brown, OBE says: “Wheelchairs are heavier now because they are better now than in 1988. They can do clever stuff like let kids stand up, climb stairs and learn with onboard communications aids. Surely the Road Traffic Act doesn’t want to stop children getting these wheelchairs? It just needs a minor amendment to rectify, but without it, charities like ours and local statutory providers cannot supply the equipment needed.”
Sheila Brown continues: “We now have 21st century equipment to fully respond to the tailored needs of disabled children and yet we are tethered to the past by this technicality. Newlife provides grants to children so they can receive the equipment they need but we are prevented from meeting those special needs by this clause in the ROTA, which is why we are calling for change. This amendment is do-able and we have met with the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, who has made representation on this and other points, where making minor changes, at little or no cost to government, would immediately make big changes to the lives of disabled children.”