A European ruling could mean that hundreds of thousands of mobility scooter owners in the UK could be forced to take out insurance.

The warning follows a European Court of Justice ruling that all motor vehicles must at minimum be protected by third party insurance – even when used on private land – when that use is “consistent with a normal function of that vehicle.”

The court was ruling on a case in which a man was knocked off a ladder by a tractor that was reversing in a farmyard. The insurer of the tractor had refused to accept liability stating that its policy covered only road use and that the tractor was being used as a machine not a vehicle. The court decided that these restrictions breached European Union Motor Insurance Directives including a key objective of ensuring accident victims are protected.

The decision conflicts with articles of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and makes redundant previous British case law. This means that a range of vehicles, including as many as 350,000 mobility scooters, may in future be subject to compulsory insurance legislation.

Disability specialist, Fish Insurance, estimates that only between 50-60,000 of mobility scooters in the UK are currently insured. “The debate over whether cover for mobility scooters should be mandatory has raged for years,” commented the company’s managing director, John Garrard. “As one of the leading players in the mobility scooter insurance market it’s probably not an issue which we should take a line on but we would certainly echo the Department of Transport’s strong advice that scooter users take out cover to protect their safety and that of other people. There is, of course, also the value of the scooter to consider.”

He points out that in any case mobility scooter users need to consider the implications of riding uninsured as, if they injure someone or damage their property, they can be held personally liable for reparations and compensation.

This was brought home to one Fish policyholder who accidentally hit a fellow shopper in a supermarket checkout queue. The victim lodged an injury claim which, after legal negotiations was eventually settled at over £12,600 – more than £10,000 less the original compensation sought.

The BBC also last year aired a programme, The Trouble With Mobility Scooters, which featured a remarkably similar case, detailing again how a supermarket accident had led to a substantial claim. The crucial difference was that this time scooter rider was not insured.  She was thus left facing a bill for costs and compensation of over £16,500, a bill which she tearfully reported she simply could not pay.

“The number of mobility scooters on UK roads, pavements and supermarket aisles is increasing daily with independent research suggesting around 80,000 machines are now sold annually,” said Garrard. “Common sense tells you that this in turns is likely to increase the frequency of accidents and associated compensation claims. It seems only sensible that scooter riders take steps to protect themselves and ensure they are in a position to settle quite legitimate claims from those who suffer injury or damage. It is not, after all, as if premiums are anywhere near those commanded by car insurers – tens rather than hundreds of pounds.”