Adding a Measure of Safety

Erika has suffered from diabetes for many years, a disease that eventually led to her having to have her left leg amputated. As one who always enjoyed getting out and about, the Christmas gift of an electric scooter was a godsend. The device gave her back her independence, with the freedom to go shopping, visit friends or go to the park.

She was making her weekly shopping trip one particular Tuesday, but she began to feel weak and dizzy, and just wanted to get home quickly. She entered her apartment building, drove her scooter toward the elevator, and, forgetting to brake, crashed into the closed panels of the landing door. The force of the impact ripped the doors out of their sill, leaving them swinging, and Erika fell 5 m down the empty shaft, and suffered very serious injuries.

As the population ages, the use of mobility scooters is expected to rise.

This horrifying scenario has played out on several occasions in recent years, with reports of similar accidents in the U.S. and Europe. With their mass and speed, electric scooters can overpower elevator landing doors, and, as the population ages, more and more of these devices are coming into use. The use is widespread in The Netherlands, and an estimated 300,000 people use mobility scooters in the U.K., where modern shopping centers provide special parking areas to accommodate them, even allowing shoppers to borrow them. Often, these scooter users will need to use an elevator. A lack of knowledge is no protection against responsibility. When accidents occur, liability often lies with the lift owner.

Rising accident numbers have led to an increase in calls for appropriate suitability tests and user certification. The primary focus is on reinforcing cabin walls and landing and car doors to enable them to withstand a collision at significant force. To date, however, no specific requirements have been laid down in common standards. Not even DIN EN 81-71: Protective measures against willful destruction can be applied to such cases, because the impact points in the pendulum tests described are considerably higher than the point at which a typical electric scooter would collide with a lift door. In investigations into electric scooter accidents, it has been repeatedly noted that the doors were in compliance with current safety requirements.

The wordings of EN 81-20/-50 attempt to place increased emphasis on stability, as well as on the test requirements for lift doors and car walls. For newly built lift doors and car panels, the static force of 300 N applied vertically to an area 5 cm2 has been increased to 1,000 N, evenly distributed over an area of 100 cm2. Following exposure to these forces, the door components must not display any permanent deformities, and their functionality must continue to be ensured. Moreover, all landing doors with sheetmetal and glass panels — as well as car doors with glass panels — must undergo optimized pendulum impact tests.

The solution is not to simply reinforce the materials or add armoring, as this would significantly increase the weight and inertia of the door panels. The greater mass would create a risk of passengers becoming trapped and injured by closing doors, making it necessary to significantly reduce the speed at which the doors close.

In most cases, building owners are liable for injuries caused by the failure of landing doors.

Meiller initiated a project several years ago with the aim of developing “scooter-proof” lift doors that provide effective protection against scooters and their riders falling into a lift shaft. Following considerable research, an overriding certification for electric scooters was developed in collaboration with the renowned Laboratory for Steel and Light Alloy Construction at Munich University of Applied Sciences. A series of complex tests was performed on scooters of all classes, and numerous crash tests were conducted. This gave rise to Meiller’s ScooterGuard® safety system, which is able to withstand a collision with an electric scooter and driver (220 kg) at speeds of up to 8 kph. The additional cost of integrating the safety features to standard sheetmetal doors remains reasonable, and, upon request, Meiller can even supply standard glass doors pursuant to EN 81-20/-50 with ScooterGuard.

Meiller's ScooterGuard device has been shown effective at halting the breach of landing doors. In crash tests, ScooterGuard-enhanced doors have withstood the force of 250 kg traveling at 8 kph.

Of course, this alone will not prevent every accident. Indeed, lawmakers and official bodies should make it their task to amend existing building codes accordingly, and architects and planners should consider measures during a building’s planning phase. Such measures might be designing landings so electric scooters can only approach a lift door at low speed or from the side, or that the call button is positioned at a sufficient distance from the landing door.

Ultimately, lift operators, building owners, and, in particular, scooter users, must have training and instruction in the possible risks associated with using a lift in conjunction with a scooter.