It’s a scooter, not a Mack truck

Something I’ve noticed a lot since starting to drive a scooter is how TERRIFIED people are.


On the sidewalks, I zoom along at six kilometres an hour if I’m unaccompanied and there’s no one around. That feels really zoomy to me, having not locomoted that fast bipedally for quite some time.

But when I’m in a place with people around, or in a shopping centre, I dial the speed right down to minimum. This is actually a fairly slow walking pace.

Yet every single time, people look frightened, and leap out of my way – when they’re not deliberately ignoring me and completely blocking the way while I wait or request passage.

Partners grab their partners to pull them aside, with alarmed looks on their faces, as if tackling them out of the path of a speeding bus in a spectacular Hollywood scene. Parents grab their toddlers and whisk them into arms, glaring at me as if I was charging the kid brandishing a sword and ululating. People in groups jolt visibly when and if they decide to finally acknowledge my existence, and make a giant production, involving a lot of discussion and back and forth and extendings-of-arms, of shuffling each other around to make space for me to get by. People blocking aisles with their angled trolleys ignore me for as long as possible, then make a big deal of moving the trolley, as if they’re compassionate solicitous generous souls who are doing me a giant favour.

People. PEOPLE. It isn’t a drama. It isn’t a big deal. It’s just a scooter with wheels. I’m quite obviously riding slowly and carefully – slower than you’re walking, most of the time. I can see your toddler, your husband, your friend, with these here eyes in my head, and much as I occasionally joke about scooter-mounted flamethrowers, I’m not actually planning to mow them down in cold blood. I don’t take up five metres of side-to-side space; you don’t need to flatten yourself against the wall as if you’re in a commando movie; you need only make enough space for me to get where I’m going.

Just treat me as you would any other human.

25 thoughts on “It’s a scooter, not a Mack truck

  1. This has got me thinking quite a lot. I do leap out of the way of people on scooters, bikes, skateboards and basically anything that is not someone walking at an average or below pace. Frankly, I’m terrified of them. This is because I can’t judge speed; I can’t guestimate how long something [I’m talking in a broad sense here – not referring to anyone as a thing] is taking to get to me, when and if it might hit me, and how much damage it might do if it does. One of the indicators of my condition is actually ‘does not cross road if there is any traffic around’, because even though other people might be able to tell that a car is ages away, I simply can’t. When people are walking, I can tell by their body movements if they’re moving at speed; when they’re using a scooter I can’t.
    There’s no excuse for making a big fuss out of it (and I’m also not suggesting that your observations about people’s reasoning aren’t correct in a lot of cases). Actually it’s good that you brought it to my attention because I should start working on it like I have spent years working on estimating the speed of cars. But I do want to point out – in a way that hopefully isn’t offensive or demeaning – that there are likely other reasons for some of the behaviour you’ve notes in some circumstances.

  2. I am guilty of jumping out of the way too. Mainly because I don’t want to make the scooterer’s (yeah ok I made that word up) path any more obstacle filled than it has to be. I am aware of all the things scooter users already have to navigate around and I figure if I am out of the way (and my toddler and my 12 yr old son who is oblivious to everyone other than himself) then it is one less thing the scooter user has to worry about. I will definitely make sure I do not have a facial expression of alarm in future! (I dont think I usually do but I will make sure I don’t in future!)

    Since FWD started, I have become so much more aware of things that as an able bodied person, I have taken for granted. Things like high counters, no chairs for people who might need them, narrow door ways and inaccessible shops/services, cars parked across footpaths etc. I recently made a complaint to the local council about a particularly rough piece of footpath (partly collapsed) and pointed out it made things very difficult for people with scooters, wheelchairs or prams. So thankyou to you all who write here for making me more aware of the issues that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

  3. I’m not talking about the occasional person being genuinely surprised and moving out of the way. I’m talking about reams of people, each and every time I go into a more populated area, making deliberately dramatic motions of leaping and startling and flattening-against walls, producing ostentatious displays of Getting Out Of The Way. Not uncommonly, when I’m not getting the how-dare-you glare, there is also a theatrical bow and a large sweeping chivalrous wave.

    I don’t want Hilarious Accessibility Theatre; I just want to exist.

    These also occur when I’m with a person who is walking at a regular slow walking pace, not when I’m weaving scarily by myself in crowds.

  4. Like anthea up above, I’m terrified of people using scooters. I’m also terrified of cyclists, skateboarders, and anyone running or walking quickly. Basically I’m terrified of anyone who’s moving faster than I am and who I perceive as either a) not looking where they’re going or b) moving too fast to stop or change direction before they bump into me.

    This is because I’m ambulatory disabled – the pain in my joints means it’s painful for me to dodge or twist out of someone’s way at the last moment. I can’t move quickly, therefore my ‘zone of observation’ is much larger than most TAB people’s.

    Now, if I think an apparently TAB person is about to walk/run/cycle into me, I’ve found the best thing is to stop dead and make them notice me. Most times they do and change direction to go around me, but even if they don’t, if I’m stopped with my weight on both feet then I’m anchored and the ‘bump’ hurts less.

    However since I know a person using a scooter is a fellow disabled person, I try to cut them a little more slack. I still feel threatened by them, but I try to anticipate where they’re going and move out of the way. I don’t think I do it ostentatiously, but the fact that I’m observing that much further ahead means there’s time for a lot more will-he-won’t-he notice I’m here?, will-he-won’t-he change direction to avoid me?

    Maybe that’s part of what you’re seeing.

  5. No Dogged, that is not what I’m seeing or describing. I’m not imagining the deliberate theatrics and ostentatious agile leaping and movie-style flattening against walls. Really.

    The fact that this is not what you’re doing doesn’t mean it isn’t being done by other people. If it’s not yours, don’t pick it up.

    And I made it absolutely clear that I don’t zoom around in crowds; I slow to a _slow_ walking pace. Comparing what I’ve described here to a cyclist, skateboarder, or runner careening through a shopping centre is really not apropos.

  6. I’ll add here a little story from the first week I got my scooter. I was picking up my kid from school. I went very, very, very slowly when I came to the populated zone. I stopped and started, and waited patiently for people to move, and didn’t assert my space requirement at all – I was still feeling extremely nervous about scooting in public. Not bothering to even lower her voice, a mother from the cliquey crowd said to another one as I approached, as part of what was obviously an ongoing conversation about those horrible disabled folk, “And the way THOSE PEOPLE drive THOSE THINGS!”, whereupon all the other parents in the cliquey group tut tutted and stared at me and turned their backs.

  7. laurelhel – sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you were imagining anything, or compare you to a runner or cyclist.

    I was only explaining how I perceive the world – obviously I didn’t do it very well.

  8. I’ve been using a scooter for about a week and I’ve noticed this.

    I was going along a pavement in front of my university and these two people were walking straight at me and didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence at all. I move to the side. “We nearly got run over,” one of them says to the other, even though it was more a case of them not looking where they were going.

    Don’t even get me started on the people clumped around bus stations who won’t move out of my way and think it’s perfectly okay for me to sit there for ten minutes while a stream of people walking move past in the other direction. And the guy who thought it’d be funny to comment “oh look, an old lady scooter”. I’m nineteen and could hear you just fine, so thanks a bunch.

    Scooter = awesome
    People = suck

  9. as if I was charging the kid brandishing a sword and ululating.

    Maybe you should! Drive them before you and hear the lamentations of their women!

  10. coldneedles: congratulations on the new scooter! May it serve you well.

    Ugh to the “we nearly got run over” comment – I’ve copped a fair few similar ones. Like I’m this random menace to society who obviously can’t see and hear your rude remarks. Dudes, I’M RIGHT HERE.

  11. Strangely, from time to time I’ve gotten similar reactions using a manual wheelchair. I’m far from an athlete, so it’s not about my speed. And I’m pretty cognizant of where bodies are standing. Still, it’s all “OMG, the wheelz will flatten me and eat my babeez!” Anyway, I love this post. Thank you for writing it.

  12. When I used my scooter heavily (I’m more able bodied right now), I noticed less the leaping out of the way and more the 100% ignoring of the fact that I was there. Therefore being around people meant a complete stop every 2 feet.

    The one place I did notice the leaping was in a large indoor mall. Seriously, you’d think the scooter had a giant slavering monster mouth painted on the front! Since I only did the mall with a scooter 2 times, I guess the first reaction sticks with me more (the ignoring).

    When you think about it, a scooter is the same size as a shopping cart or one of those humungous baby strollers, so I don’t get why people react so bizarrely to them.

  13. You are in a horror movie, and if the people around you don’t react that way, they’ll end up in a scooter too, which is, obviously, a fate worse than death. /bitter sarcasm

    I really have no rational reason for why people do that.

  14. The only scooters I have any fear of are the ones that are lent out in places like amusement parks and big stores, and (I think) that’s for good reason.

    I worked at Disneyland years ago, and I can’t tell you how often I actually DID get hit by the rent-a-scooters. I NEVER had any kind of incident with anyone in their own scooter, but the rented ones…well, the most comical one was probably the one where I was hit from behind and literally ended up in the basket of the scooter. The most painful would be the one that slammed into my bad ankle and knee, taking me out for about 3 days.

    I’ve also (blush) been the culprit in accidentally hitting someone in one of the scooters in a store. The lady stepped out in front of me so abruptly that I didn’t have time to stop, though I did get very much slowed down first. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt much, just badly startled.

    I don’t yank people out of the way or complain that I’ve nearly been hit or anything, but I do give people in rent-a-scooters wider berth and if I have the option, I’ll step out of the way and let them pass.

    But people on their own scooters? Nah, I treat them just like anyone in say a wheelchair – I’ll move over to let them pass if I can, because I know that they’re going to have enough trouble with everyone else not seeing them and cutting them off and whatnot. But I’m not going to make a big deal of it, because it isn’t a big deal – it’s just good manners.


  15. Kali,
    The loaner scooters at Disney and / or stores are so much harder and bigger to control than the one I used at home. At Disney I can’t tell you how many times I slammed into walls / railings / curbs / etc. Ugh.

  16. I’m guilty of leaping out of the way of scooters. I have a very real fear of being bashed into; I’ve been rammed before by people in scooters traveling at speed, as well as by parents with heavily loaded pushchairs. It can hurt a lot more than just being bumped into by someone’s body, and not everyone using them is considerate, has swift reflexes with the breaks or uses them at a sensible speed. I’ve had bruises from pushchairs and scooters on the rare occasions when someone’s actually hit me, but only a few times from far more frequent bumps with people not using them. I do come from an area with a large number of pensioners, though, so it could be that they’re just not great at driving the things.

  17. I think you should brandish a sword and soup up your scooter to look scary – though of course, that will bring out the boys, because it looks cool and you will have been an **Inspirational Figure** or at least taught the kids by being, you know, a person, that hey, other people in scooters are person.

    But I have an immature streak.

    I’m picturing a truck grill over the front… if you’ve got a basket… and then make the grill scarier, like truckers do. Then get a truckers’ horn… *gets on the phone with trucker uncle*

    If they treat it like it’s a Mack Truck, make it one!

  18. Other people in scooters are person. Thank the academic gods my last exam is multiple choice! I will mess up the date, though.

    … are people.

    … persons.

    Not that *you* should have to tell them that but that’s what you get for souping up your scooter! Who’s bright idea was that?

  19. I believe that Lauredhel already addressed this in her comment above, but it bears further exploration. The number of responses on this post informing Lauredhel that scooters are SCARY and that the people who drive them should not be treated as individual human beings has really been quite astounding.

    What’s especially interesting is the comments denying her experience. “Oh, surely people are just moving politely out of the way.” Now, I know from moving politely, and I bet Lauredhel does too. There’s a significant difference between yielding, and making A Production out of moving out of the way.

    I must say, though, that the comment about “pensioners” makes me squirm a bit, because it seems to carry an ageist assumption that older adults are less likely to be able to handle a scooter.

  20. I think we’re trying to say, “I’m not that person, I’m a good person! I wouldn’t act that way!” which can definitely and rightly be interpreted as negation of what she experiences. “It’s just a few bad apples, honest!”

    As I said, there is no rational, non-*ist reason for people to do that, but no one would admit doing it – though I’d love someone to go, hey, I think I did this and I am NT and TAB and here’s what I was thinking. I would hope that if somebody did that they wouldn’t be chastised and chased away, because I am seriously curious as to WTF is up with people. (About everything, but in this case acting like she’s carrying a plague-ridden severed head in the basket.)

    It would be awesome to confront these people as well, but it sucks that it falls to coldneedles and lauredhel. Though if I was with a group who did that, I’d be like, what was that all about? And possibly yell an unheard sorry at the back of the scooter, or maybe, if I’m feeling full-of-beans, go up to the person and apologize, because my friends/coworkers/family are… um… here’s where it runs out of steam.

  21. because I am seriously curious as to WTF is up with people

    I’m interested, too – I live in a very small town and haven’t seen any of this behaviour with the three scooter users who live here. I have, however, seen it in the next big town over (11,000 people) so I’m wondering if disability cooties is part of it. If you know someone personally – as everyone in my town knows the scooter users – you see the person and say hello rather than frantically ignoring or dramatically dodging the terrifying moral lesson of OMG disability.

  22. not everyone using them is considerate, has swift reflexes with the breaks or uses them at a sensible speed

    Not to be rude or anything, but I know this and I’m pretty sure Lauredhel does as well. We’re not talking about people driving their scooters badly, we’re talking about people acting scandalized at someone using a scooter’s very presence. It seems like there’s always this big rush to blame scooter users and not abled people or poor accessibility.

    (I had the worst acessibility day yesterday so I’m feeling touchy about the whole thing.)

  23. Ms. M @12: you are so right-on about humongous baby strollers! At least in the U.S., in the last five years, strollers have gone from modest umbrella-like contraptions to mighty vehicles inspired by Hummer Army trucks.

  24. I second Kali on the unwieldiness of theme park scooters. I’m also a former Disney employee and working in the stroller and wheelchair rental at Disney World. I had guests drive scooters into me a few times, but I was hit more frequently by those double-wide strollers (my ankles were regularly covered in bruises). While I admit I was pretty snippy with the people who drove into me, that job showed me (when I was a bratty, oblivious 20 year old) how inaccessible theme parks are to people with disabilities as I tried to navigate crowds and narrow-walkways riding our rental scooters.

  25. [Mod note: I’m letting this through purely as a shining example of what not to do. It’s a giant steaming heap of TABsplanation. solea, we already know that bigoted ablefolk are assholes, and have a fair handle on the faulty reasoning behind it. We really don’t need to you dropping in to explain in minute detail why we make you so very uncomfortable, and we are not your life coaches. Go reflect deeply on your prejudice in some other space, like maybe the shower. ~L]

    I am NT (at least, for all practical purposes in this scenario) and (definitely) TAB, and here’s what I was thinking. I’ve ordered these thoughts from least to most offensive, so that anyone can stop reading before it gets completely ugly. (Roughly from the third bullet point onward.)

    – I think that things on wheels are faster than things on legs, unless I’m actively passing a scooter due to its slow speed (in that case I am more confident that your scooter isn’t a threat).

    – The idea of colliding with machinery of any kind is more frightening to me than colliding with flesh and limbs, even if there’s a significant speed difference.

    – I think that you’ll run over my foot. The idea that someone in a scooter will mow me down is odd, but the idea that I have to leap out of the way instead of merely retracting a foot as you pass is even odder.

    – I don’t trust that you’ll stop or avoid me. It’s not that I think you’re evil, it’s that I think your disability might also affect your visual perception. (This means I fundamentally distrust your judgment, by assuming you’ll ride a scooter even if it could endanger yourself & others.)

    – I think you don’t care about avoiding a collision as much as I do, because I’ll be hurt more in the hypothetical collision. (This means I’m not considering the potential for you being injured, humiliated, or publicly chastised for colliding with me.)

    – So, to sum up, in my head:

    + your scooter is just a miniature car and therefore a menace to walking pedestrians
    + you may not be able to control your scooter or perceive that I’m in your way
    + your scooter has the capacity to cause great embarrassment and damage to me if we collide (I’m not thinking whatsoever about the embarrassment or damage to you)

    I don’t actually *leap* out of the way, but I’m sure I have a look of palpable tension on my face, and I definitely veer more than is necessary. My veering is more “you might be the iceberg to my Titanic”, not so much “allow me to make space for you, fellow sidewalk user”. Even in cases where I perceive you as moving slowly enough to not count as “threat”, I still veer, because I’m trying to distinguish myself from TAB pedestrians who stand around chatting on a narrow sidewalk while you wait. Like, cookies for the enthusiastic ally plz! Which is also silly, because obviously who does it serve when I make such an emphatic gesture? You just need me to negotiate the space as I would with any other entity. My show of consideration – and a “show” is exactly what it is – reminds me of the occasional white ally who shows up to a POC event, bubbling over with self-flagellation on their race’s behalf like “Omigod, we white people are such crap!”

    It’s important that I note that I don’t have these perceptions because of any disability or negative scooter experience as far as I know. I have definitely never worked at Disneyland. I’ve never collided with a car or bike, let alone a scooter. So yeah, it’s pretty much as bad as you’d think. Maybe some NT+TAB folks out there have less appalling attitudes, but these are mine (at least, when I track my initial responses to their underlying implications. Typically I don’t think about it, which is the problem.)

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