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Minor British Institutions: The mobility scooter

The mobility scooter is an institution that, like most others, has crept up on us. Invented in America in the 1960s, there are now an estimated 300,000 users moving silently and sedately around our pavements and roads.

But the ride to acceptance has been made a little bumpy by their almost unique power to provoke both of the major British responses to the new: suspicion and ridicule.

An unfair but lingering feeling of malingering has been joined by some irresistible incidents, including the pensioner who caused all manner of problems for the traffic flow in Wincanton by slowly transporting a lengthy roll of carpet sideways, and the 25-stone woman who failed to make a getaway on her machine after stealing a slimming aid from a supermarket in Glamorgan.

More regulation is on the way; in the meantime, might I remind non-users that the mobility scooter is a difficult vehicle for dignity and that a cheery smile and friendly hello might help?