Active seniors want to continue to embrace life. Being retired gives them the time to indulge in trendy activities like parasailing or Segway tours, but often something that seems harmless is far from it.
For example, are Segways safe for seniors? Segways are not safe for seniors, even if they are experienced riders. Riding a Segway requires good balance and stability. A rider must be able to stand for long periods of time, see well enough to scan the terrain ahead of them, and be able to walk up stairs without using a handrail.
Segway® Human Transporters (HT) are defined in the dictionary as, “a two-wheeled motorized personal vehicle consisting of a platform for the feet mounted above an axle and an upright post surmounted by handles, controlled by the way the rider distributes their weight.” So think about it – this is a two wheeled scooter that requires the rider to balance and distribute their weight in order to determine speed and direction. This fact alone makes a Segway dangerous for an elder.
In fact, even the Segway company notes in its user manual warning that, “Whenever you ride the Segway HT, you risk death or serious injury from loss of control, collisions, and falls.”
People look at these machines as fun vehicles on a par with bicycles. However, Segways travel faster than a bike (12.5 mph vs 9.6 mph) and tip over easily if they encounter pathway debris, bumps or potholes.
They can be difficult to steer because riders have to redistribute their weight to control them. Leaning forward increases speed, so if a rider’s weight isn’t properly balanced, they could unintentionally go too fast. Plus, there isn’t a brake – braking is done by leaning backwards, so leaning back too far or shifting one’s weight too quickly could cause a fall.
Here is Esther telling you her adventures with Segways!
Accidents Involving Segways For Seniors
From personal experience, I can tell you that Segways are not safe for seniors. We took my then 80-something parents to Epcot in Disney World one year and Dad really wanted to try one. It was on an indoor track and he was in great shape (climbed stairs, could see well, had good balance). The instructor assured him he could ride one with no problem.
The trainer went over the machine with him, then let him try it on his own. Dad got on the device and he and the machine both promptly fell over. Thankfully, the instructor caught the Segway on the way down or Dad might have been hurt. He tried it a few more times, then gave up because he couldn’t maintain his balance when he tried to move forward.
In another example, a close friend of mine fell off the Segway she was riding on a sightseeing tour – twice during the same excursion. At the time, she was in her early 50s and in better shape than someone who might be ten or twenty years older when they want to try one.
The first time she fell, she landed in grass and only scraped her knee. The second time, she ended up in the emergency room of a nearby hospital because the Segway bounced off a wall that was close by. It continued to move and came back to run over her foot and leg. She ended up with a cracked bone in her ankle.
My friend isn’t the only person to have an accident on a Segway. There are many stories out there that tell of the dangers of riding them, not only for seniors but also for able-bodied adults and children.
For example, did you know that the owner of the Segway company died at age 62 after accidentally riding his personal Segway off a cliff? Or that former President George W. Bush fell off one (although he managed to leap to safety)?
Segway Accidents Statistics
NBC News reported that, the day after the Segway company owner passed away in 2010, Dr. Mary Pat McKay, a professor of emergency medicine and public health at the George Washington University in Washington, D. C. called for “a system to look at this on a national basis, which we don’t have now.”
When I compare admission rates for Segway injuries for people who came to the ER, the admission rate was higher than pedestrians struck by a car.
– Dr. Mary Pat McKay
“People are falling off of Segways and they’re really getting hurt,” she said. The victims reportedly had brain injuries, massive facial trauma, and serious bone fractures to the ribs, ankles, clavicles, and arms.
In McKay’s small study of the 41 Segway patients that were seen in the George Washington ER, the injured riders had a median age of 50 years old. 30 of the 41 people who were hurt were women. 29 people came from outside the area, which seemed to indicate that they were likely injured during sightseeing tours on a Segway.
A 2015 case report by Ashurst and Wagner in the U.S. National Library of Medicine noted that the average age noted in cumulative reports of those injured while riding a Segway was 46.07 years old. Additionally, “44% of those reported injuries on personal transporters had significant head trauma that required an intensive care admission.”
It bears repeating that these injuries were to generally younger people (average age under 50 years old) who I would think would have better balance, eyesight, and reaction time than many seniors.
Are Segway Tours Safe For Active Seniors?
In my opinion, Segway tours are definitely not safe for seniors, active or otherwise. I think it is irresponsible for any Segway dealer or tour company to say they are, too (remember my friend got hurt on a tour that used Segways).
I am 69, and have glided on my Segway X2 (off road variety) for 4 years and covered nearly 4000 miles. I agree that Segways are not ‘safe’.
– Mark M. (TripAdvisor reviewer)
In researching for this article, I visited TripAdvisor.com to see what seniors had said in reviews for tours that used Segways. While some respondents thought they were safe and had a great time on their tour, there were also stories like this one: “Segways are not safe. My 72 year old female friend had a terrible accident 3 months ago and broke her knee and both wrists. She is slowly recovering. She is an experienced 7yr rider.
“One of the wheels hit a raised area on the sidewalk and she was thrown 6 feet onto the sidewalk in front of her. A young woman stopped and called 911 and she was taken to Emergency. She was moved to the operating room and a metal plate was put inside one of her wrists. She was put under anesthesia as she was in enormous pain.
“The next morning she was moved to a nursing home where she got occupational therapy for two weeks. After that, she was moved home and hired 4 people to come and take care of her. Luckily, she has Long Term Care insurance which is reimbursing her for most of the many thousands that it is costing her to get care. ($7,000-8,000/month).”
Segway Safety Tips
If a senior still wants to ride a Segway despite reading about the accidents involving the machine, there are some safety tips from the company’s safety guide that they should definitely follow:
- Watch the Segway safety video before riding.
- Always wear a helmet (product link). Segway accidents often result in head wounds or traumatic brain injuries that may not be apparent for a while. These can include concussions, fractures, and subdural hematomas (buildup of blood on the brain’s surface).
- Make sure the handlebars are adjusted for your height.
- Check that the machine is in Balance Mode before trying to step onto it.
- Pay close attention to what is around you and in front of you while riding. The wheels on a Segway are wider than the platform, so watch that you aren’t running one wheel off the sidewalk. Also be on the lookout for potholes or debris in the road or path ahead of you.
- Avoid riding over curbs, steps, or other obstacles.
- Keep away from steep slopes.
- Don’t ride over slippery surfaces, such as wet grass, snow or ice, or through puddles.
- Be careful of terrain changes, such as transitioning from grass to pavement or riding over a speed bump.
- Limit your riding speed especially if the handlebar is shaking or the vehicle is making “growling noises.” These are part of the Stick Shaker Warning notification that is built in to the machines.
- When stepping on or off, don’t tilt the handle while the machine is in Balance Mode. This will cause it to move and it may bump into you or someone (or something) else.
- Don’t let go of the machine when it is in Balance Mode and don’t step off a moving Segway. The company’s safety manual says the vehicle “will travel some distance on its own before shutting down.” This is what happened to my friend when she fell off. Like her cracked ankle, a still-running Segway could cause injury to you or someone nearby.
- If going under an object (think: tree limb) or through a doorway, remember that you are taller when riding a Segway. Be sure to duck.
A New Segway For Seniors – The Segway-Ninebot’s S-Pod
UPDATE: An article on Gizmodo.com published January 3, 2020 reports on a new Segway model specifically for seniors. How is it different? The author of the article explains that it’s generally safer, the rider sits instead of stands and they added a 3rd wheel to make it safer when it stops.
Like the original Segway, the S-Pod does the whole self-balancing on two wheels trick which the brand is mostly known for. But to make climbing aboard a little easier, and a little more stable, a third wheel has been added that the S-Pod can rest on when it has come to a stop.
In lieu of the original Segway’s handlebar-mounted controls which allowed riders to simply lean forward or backward to accelerate or slow down, the S-Pod features a navigation panel and a manually operated control knob which causes the vehicle itself to shift its center of gravity forward and back.
Although this product is not yet being sold it will be demonstrated at the CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show) in January. If this product becomes available it will be interesting to see if it’s a viable option for many seniors.
If you or your senior loved one still decide to ride a Segway, keep our article, “Quad Cane Vs Regular Cane – Which Is Better?” handy, just in case!
You might also like to read about How To Keep An Elderly Parent From Falling.