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Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices

Volume 701: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will introduce measures to allow electric personal assistive mobility devices to be used on roads.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that, although it is obviously a very disappointing Answer. Are the Government aware that most European countries, and most states in the United States, welcome the Segway, which is also called the Segway Personal Transporter? The police and emergency services in this country see it as having great advantages. It is no more dangerous than bicycling, and a lot more fun, I can tell you. It is technically innovative, self-balancing, carbon-free and ideal for travelling distances of two to five miles—journeys that people usually now take by car. Can the Ministry of Transport really not see the potential of the Segway? It could be a vital tool in helping to solve our transport problems, particularly in inner cities. Could the ministry not at least initiate trials, with a view to considering allowing it to travel in places where at least bicycles are now permitted?

My Lords, the noble Earl is obviously very keen on Segways. We have an open mind on these matters and keep such things under review, but there are difficulties.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many police forces in European capitals use the Segway for apprehending criminals because, as the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, said, these machines can go on pavements, cycle routes and roads? Why are we out of tune with the rest of Europe in our policing? Would it not be a good idea to let the Metropolitan Police at least trial them?

My Lords, it is obviously open to police forces in the United Kingdom to investigate the potential of these machines, although my understanding is that their potential is limited. I am not entirely sure that electric personal assistive mobility devices will raise detectives’ performance levels; nor am I necessarily aware that they offer many of the benefits alluded to by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow.

My Lords, there is a serious safety issue, which I do not think one can take lightly. One German police force undertook some research into this and, within a very short period, discovered that there had been seven major, serious incidents.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that he is keeping the issue under review. Has anyone with ministerial responsibility tried one of these excellent machines?

My Lords, my brief does not extend that far but, if it helps the noble Earl, perhaps I will have a go on one of them myself.

My Lords, the development that the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, suggested would be of great help to people such as myself who tend to use pavements or sidewalks instead of roads. Sometimes in the countryside the sidewalks have a very bad camber and it is dangerous to use a personal assistive machine on them. Alternatively, there may be no sidewalks, in which case one is bound to use the highway. Can the Minister suggest something for people who, like me, cannot get around other than on the road?

My Lords, I suspect that for people who have serious difficulties with mobility these devices are not particularly practical. However, they may be very useful on private land and in areas where large landowners wish to use them. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham tells me that they are very handy on golf courses.

My Lords, the Minister is obviously not very well informed about these devices because he did not respond to my noble friend’s point that the majority of European countries and the overwhelming majority of states in the US have allowed these vehicles on to the roads and presumably have some regulations under which they operate. Why cannot the noble Lord at least undertake to have a look at the procedures in the United States and Europe to see whether any of them might be applicable here?

My Lords, perhaps I did sell the noble Earl a bit short in what I said, but we are reviewing the reports on Segway trials. I know that some 42 states in the US have given the machines limited scope for usage, as have a number of EU states. However, I am not aware that that is the case in the majority of EU states, as the noble Earl said. Of course, we keep these things under review and our officials are currently looking at a number of trials that have been reported on.

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that the police could trial these devices? I understood that the police had been told that they could not do so.

My Lords, I think that one UK police force decided that it would acquire these vehicles and then discovered that it would not be lawful to use them on the public highway.

My Lords, I tried one of these machines 20 minutes ago; it is in the car park if the Minister wishes to wander out there. It took me a few minutes to learn how to use it and I was very impressed with it. The vehicle’s safety mechanism was particularly good and was demonstrated by the fact that I drove straight at the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, with his consent, and failed to do him any damage at all—unfortunately! I am sure that if the Minister would like to wander down to the car park, he could try it out on the pavement and, as it is on private land, he could do so legally.

My Lords, I am always game to do these things but I am not sure that I will manage it this afternoon, as we have the Committee stage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill.

My Lords, I knew that that would not go down very well, but I commit to finding the opportunity to have a go on a Segway. I am sure that I will find it extremely interesting and no doubt a noble Lord will put down a Question to test me on how good it was.

My Lords, I apologise for coming in again, but does the Minister not understand that a major disincentive to using rail to get to a destination in the UK is the difficulty of getting from the railway station to the end destination, which may be a couple of miles? Does the Minister not see that the Segway could be very useful for that last part of a journey?

My Lords, I hear what a number of noble Lords say about Segways, but there are real, practical difficulties. We must always be mindful of safety issues—this Government have a good record on road safety—and there are serious concerns; no doubt other jurisdictions have made such discoveries. Yes, we keep this under review. I take the point that the noble Earl made, but we need to take these issues more seriously.