How fast can power chairs go?

It’s a fair question and one that a lot of people who have recently found themselves needing a powered mobility aid wind up wondering about. After all, wheelchairs (even powered ones) bring to mind visions of painfully slow-moving contraptions that won’t get you anywhere fast.

If you have a need for speed, you want more than that.

The good news is, we’ll discuss speed selection in this article. If you want a power chair with some zip to it, you can absolutely have that! There are a staggering number of makes and models available that cater to just about every taste and preference, and several of those are, simply put, built for speed.

We’ll break down the speed issue, talk about when you might want a fast chair, and who might be better served by something that proceeds at a pace that’s a little slower. All that, on a quest to answer the question: how fast does a motorized wheelchair go? Let’s find out!

How Fast Are Power Wheelchairs Generally?

A man on his powerchair with power speed selection in a public place

Let’s start by talking about speed more broadly. First and foremost, in the United States, there’s no official standard. The informal standard that most of the power chairs on the market today are built around is 4.5 to 5 miles per hour at the top end.

If you’re looking for something fast, you’re probably sighing in frustration and groaning to yourself reading those words, but it’s not all bad news. Honestly, for the majority of the market, 4.5 to 5 MPH is fine.

Most of the people who use an electric scooter or wheelchair tend to mostly use them indoors, either inside their own homes or for the occasional shopping trip. If that’s mostly how you plan to use your chair, then trying to use your chair at speeds faster than five miles an hour or so would probably get you into an in-home accident, or you’ll probably be asked to leave if you’re out shopping and playing “Speed Racer” up and down the aisles of the store.

The unofficial standard top speed in the States then was really built around the most common use case for power chairs. The industry looked at demand and what its customers were using their products for and used that data to answer the question “how fast do motorized wheelchairs need to go,” then designed accordingly.

Ultimately then, it’s not a question of how fast they can go (because with a big enough motor on the scooter of your choice, it can go pretty much as fast as you like); what really matters, though, is the question: how much speed do you need from your power wheelchair?

Ideal Power Wheelchair Speed

A person on a power wheelchair with elevated footrests

Again, if you plan on mostly using it inside your home or for the occasional shopping trip, your speed needs probably aren’t as great as you imagine, and the unofficial standard (4.5 to 5 MPH) will probably serve you well.

If you occasionally like to get outside and ride around, though, that top speed might start feeling almost painfully slow. 

The good news is that almost all of the biggest players in the market cater to those who want a little extra speed, and you’ll find plenty of options with top speeds ranging from 5 to 9 miles per hour.

That’s much better for some folks and much more flexible. Almost all of these chairs offer some means of varying your power wheelchair speed selection, so you can toggle to a low-speed setting when you’re indoors and open things up when you’re outside and want to have some fun.

If the above is a step in the right direction but still an unsatisfying answer to the question “how fast can an electric wheelchair go?,” you’re in luck because there are a surprising number of power chairs with speeds up to 20, or even 30+ miles per hour.

As with their slower cousins, these chairs tend to have selection controls so you can dial the power and speed back as needed. However, most of the chairs and scooters that operate at speeds like this tend to be big, burly machines, making them increasingly less suitable for indoor use. 

Even so, there are times when even a speed lover may want to slow things down a bit, and almost all of these chairs and scooters give you some means of doing so.

A person riding a power wheelchair outdoor

Broadly speaking then, in the US market, you can break power chairs and scooters into three categories:

  • Those with a top speed of 5mph or lower.
  • Those with a top speed of 5 to 9 MPH
  • And those with a top speed of 10+ MPH

At that point, it bears having an honest conversation with yourself about what top speed you’d like to have and what top speed you’re likely to need the vast majority of the time.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that in the UK, they have more clearly defined standards than we do in the US. If you live in the UK, or if you simply want something that’s a bit more clearly codified, here’s how they do it in the UK:

Mobility aids fall into one of three classes.

  • Class 1 describes all non-powered gear (so, manual wheelchairs, rollators, and the like)
  • Class 2 describes all powered wheelchairs and scooters with a top speed of 4MPH or less. These devices may not be used on roads, except at designated crossings.
  • Class 3 describes all powered wheelchairs and scooters with a top speed of 8MPH, which is the maximum allowable speed in the UK. These devices can be used on roads.

Other Dimensions to Consider

A female on a motorized wheelchair outdoor

Here’s where things can start to get muddy when trying to answer the question “how fast can a motorized wheelchair go?” 

The torque of the machine and the size and power of the motor will give you some information, of course, but they don’t tell the whole story.

How much you weigh affects the top speed you can get from whatever machine you ultimately buy, as does the type of terrain you’ll be using it on. If you live in an area with steep slopes, you can expect that you’ll see significantly less than the listed top speed when trying to navigate challenging hills.

In a similar vein, there’s almost always a tradeoff to consider. After all, it’s not just a question of how fast an electric wheelchair goes. Battery life and range also matter, and sometimes, that factor can matter even more than speed.

Consider: If your range is 18 miles and you can travel 18 miles an hour, then you’re going to drain the battery in a single hour of use. You’ll have to wait 4-6 hours (the exact time will depend on the model you get) to recharge the batteries before you can use it again. Not good.

The point is that range matters too.

As you can see then, answering what seems at first glance to be a simple question is actually a lot more complex than it first appears!

Final Thoughts on Power Chair Speed Selection

So, at the end of the day, how fast does a power wheelchair go?

The answer is: It depends.

If you’re in the UK, then the fastest you’ll be able to go is 8MPH. If you live in the United States, you can go as fast as your budget will allow, but as mentioned in the last section, you may not want to because of the tradeoffs involved.

Ultimately, there are no right answers on power chair speed selection. Only you can know how fast you want or need to go in your power chair, and only you know what your budget will bear.

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