Gophers

Reporter: Mark Gibson

They're a saviour for seniors..But if you're not careful they can be a death trap.Our crash test results in a moment, but first, what are the rules? George says "You're classed as a pedestrian on a mobility scooter so the maximum speed you're allowed to go is 10 kilometres an hour." Even so, you can buy dodgy gophers that go up to 25 kilometres an hour. George Papos from Blue Sky Health Care. "There are some importers that come into this marketplace and bring scooters in that aren't as good quality as they could be and obviously looking to sell a scooter and make a fast buck"

"25 kilometres an hour is completely unacceptable." Matt Brown from the RAC. "All retailers should be required by law to limit these vehicles to 10 kilometres an hour." Problem is, there are no rules when it comes to safety features like seatbelts and helmets.. and anyone can sell them.We asked a group of gopher-riding go-getters for their expert opnions. Jo says "We do have a couple who we class hoons, you don't have to be a teenager to be a hoon and it's just being inconsiderate." John says "I'm very very close to losing my scooter, I do bend the rules...So are you one of those hoons they're talking about? Yeah I'm very very close to it." Andrea says "They don't check the doorways going into shops, they'll hoon around in the shops, these are the people that give a bad name to people on gophers." Jo says "Like the hoons, if you do something wrong your car gets taken off you, I'd like to see where the gophers are taken off them for a week." "Like a hoon seizure?" "We have a senior hoon seizure yes."

"So what's the key to better safety and reducing the number of accidents?" John says "Slowing the speed down of the scooter, the manufacturer, instead of putting bigger engines in it and more education of road rules." "What about seatbelts, who thinks that you should have to wear seatbelts?" John says "There'd be no need for it because we're low, we're compacted, you've got 2 arm rests on your scooter so if you do tip you've at least got something on your arms. To grab your arm rest, your shoulder would hit the ground more so than your head."

Let's see if they're right. "Using Stigo the dummy we'll try to simulate the 10 kmh collision between the gopher and the real car." Here's what happens when a gopher travelling at the legal speed limit of ten kilometres an hour crashes into a stationary car. The dummy's head slams into the car's back window.. an elderly person would be lucky to survive.

"In this case Stigo dummy was wearing helmet, without helmet, usually people don't use them, injuries would be a lot more severe, even fatal." Automotive engineer Grad Zivkovic says the force generated is 30 times the weight of the rider.. it's the same as two cars colliding head on at 40 kilometres an hour. "People who ride the pushbikes and motorbikes have to wear helmets as well so I'm really surprised that people on gophers don't have to and I believe they should be forced to do it as well." Double the speed to 20 k's an hour.. and the outcome is worse. "Usually twice the speed is four times the severity of the impact so what you saw here would be four times more severe at 20kmh."

"Any injury that occurs to an older person or a frail person is going to have a bigger impact than an injury that occurs to a younger person." Clare Bradley is researching injuries in older Australians. Officially, there have been 71 gopher-related deaths across the country in the past nine years. "More research needs to be put into what kinds of transport infrastructure we need to provide our older population, whether we can offer alternatives and why people are using their mobility scooters, whether or not there's a better way that older people want to travel or should travel."

These seniors admit the older you get, the more dangerous gophers become. John says"If you can't hear anything you could cause a problem, somebody yells out to you and you don't hear them."

"Do you think people need to be subjected to testing?""Some sort of medical check for sure." Andrea says "I believe if the resident, or the person driving the gopher has been diagnosed with dementia you have got problems there it's like when you're driving a car it's all about the safety."

Send us an email and tell us about your own experiences with gophers at : tt@7perth.com.au