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Motorized wheelchair users considered pedestrians

Motorized wheelchairs

I have grave concerns about the safety of those driving battery operated wheelchairs and about the dangers involved for car drivers in dealing with their activities on the road. For instance, are those wheelchairs allowed legally on the roadways? I'm all in favour of personal navigation being available for those unable to drive anymore but isn't that the reason cities make our sidewalk curbs manageable for wheelchairs?

This correspondent raises a good question.

A motor vehicle is defined as a vehicle not run on rails, that is designed to be self-propelled or propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires.

A motorized wheelchair or mobility scooter fits this definition and can be considered as a motor vehicle for the purposes of the Motor Vehicle Act.

However, this does not mean that all wheelchair users have to worry about drivers licenses and such. In Section 2 of the Motor Vehicle Act, it states the act and its regulations shall not apply to the driving or operation of a mechanically propelled chair, which is used only for the purposes for which it is designed. Only an able-bodied user would have to comply with the usual motor vehicle rules.

A disabled person in any type of wheelchair is considered to be a pedestrian and must follow pedestrian rules. That means using sidewalks or riding on the left facing traffic if sidewalks are not available.

If the sidewalk is not reasonably passable, a pedestrian is not required to use it and then would be entitled to use the extreme left hand edge of the roadway.

One scooter operator explained to me that her spine had deteriorated due to illness and riding over the joints in the concrete sidewalk caused significant pain. She chose to ride on the smooth pavement of the street instead. For her, the sidewalk was not reasonably passable.

Travel at pedestrian speeds and don't follow those on foot too closely.

Many correspondents have also pointed out that it is wise to use a flag to increase the height and visibility of the wheelchair and its operator. Without the flag it is difficult to see the person on the wheelchair in parking lots and behind cars parked beside sidewalks.

If your mobility scooter has lights, use them at night. If it doesn't, consider adding them.

Seeing a mobility scooter on the road could be an indication that increased care is required of you. There is a small possibility that health issues may make scooter operators unpredictable.

Grant them a little extra leeway and consider how we might appreciate it if we were in their situation.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Turning left when the traffic light is red

Left turn on a red light

When I was relatively new to police work, I was patrolling behind a car that stopped at a red light with the left turn signal blinking.

The next thing I knew, the car turned left against the red light. Well, on went the lights and siren and I chased down this alleged red light runner. This would be an easy ticket, or so I thought.

"What do you mean officer?" asked the driver. "I'm allowed to turn left on a red light if I turn onto a one-way street,” said the driver.

I collected his documents and went back to my police car. Out came my copy of the Motor Vehicle Act and I read section 129 on red lights carefully. This driver was absolutely correct. I gave his documents back and apologized with a face that was likely just as red as that traffic light had been.

While we are talking about the Motor Vehicle Act, section 165 says left turns on red lights must be made from the left most lane of the street you are leaving and into the first available lane of travel on the street you are entering.

Unless you are turning from a one-way street, remember you have to look further across the intersection for other road users when shoulder checking before making a left turn on a red. Traffic will not be right beside your vehicle as it is when you make a right turn on red light.

The right-of-way rules for left turns apply. Drivers turning left on a red must yield to both cross traffic and right turn traffic on the other side of the intersection as necessary.

Some drivers will be upset that you make this turn and some will be upset if you don’t. As always, you need to choose to do what you are comfortable with to be safe and that choice may be to wait for the light to change.

Left turns may also be prohibited by signs at intersections. The prohibition could forbid all left turns or left turns during specific times of the day.

Laws are not uniform across North America and you will have to make sure that this turn is permitted before you do it when driving outside of B.C.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The rights and the duties of cyclists when riding on the road

Rules of the road for cyclists

"Are there rules for riding bicycles?" a reader asked after narrowly missing a collision with a bicyclist. "They seem to ride wherever they feel like it. How is a driver supposed to know what bicycle riders are going to do?"

The most significant concept in the Motor Vehicle Act is that the rider of a bicycle is just like the driver of a car.

183 (1) In addition to the duties imposed by this section, a person operating a cycle on a highway has the same rights and duties as a driver of a vehicle.

There are some limitations, such as the cyclist must ride as nearly as practical to the right hand side of the highway, but is not expected to ride off of the pavement. In other words, motor vehicles and bicycles must share the road with each other.

The right is also to have the driver of a motor vehicle treat the cyclist in the same manner as they are required treat the driver of another motor vehicle.

The duties that the cyclist has include the rules of the road that drivers are subject to. They must obey speed limits, stop at stop signs, ride on the correct side of the highway and give arm signals so that other traffic knows what the rider intends to do.

A number of specific duties are required of cyclists. The most are common sense, such as keeping at least one hand on the handlebars, being seated properly on the seat, carrying only the number of passengers that the bicycle is designed for and having proper lights and reflectors when riding at night.

Many people have the mistaken belief that cyclists must always ride in single file. This rule only applies to cycling on the roadway. One can ride on the roadway beside another cyclist using the shoulder.

Sidewalks and crosswalks must not be used by cyclists unless permitted by a by-law or directed to do so by a sign.

The Motor Vehicle Act does not specifically take into account new active transportation infrastructure, such as cycle lanes, bike boxes and the like. In fact, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has advised it will not create these facilities on the highways that they are responsible for. Instead, these facilities are created by municipalities and regulated through bylaws.

So, unless a bylaw has been enacted to require it, cyclists do not have to use a cycle lane instead of the roadway when a cycle lane is present.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


When changing lanes don't force traffic behind you to tailgate

Forced tailgating

I hope most drivers subscribe to the “two-second” rule under good driving conditions and increase the following distance when the situation is not ideal.

It certainly makes sense to leave sufficient room between your vehicle and the one you are following to create a safety margin. Why then do some drivers make lane changes that force the driver behind them to be a tailgater?

When I was being taught to drive, the instructor said I was not to make a lane change until I could see all of the front of the vehicle behind me in my centre rearview mirror. That would insure there was a safe distance between us when I did move over in front of the other driver. Unfortunately, it appears this has been forgotten by, or is not being taught to, drivers today.

Leaving enough space before changing lanes in front of a semi is critical for safety. Heavy commercial vehicles can have as little as 50% of a light vehicle's braking ability. For this reason alone, you do not want to be in the “No Zone” in front of a truck.

All too often I am cruising in the right lane at the speed limit when I am overtaken by another driver who may or may not signal before jamming their vehicle in front of me about two vehicle lengths away. I have to drop back to maintain my space cushion and this becomes especially difficult if the driver behind is tailgating me.

A driver must not drive from one lane to another unless the driver has ascertained movement can be made safely and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle. That requirement is straight forward. If I have to slow to maintain safe following distance after you change lanes in front of me, you are in violation.

Step by step:

• Decide well in advance that you want to change lanes. Look ahead for potential problem areas.

• Mirror check to see if there’s a safe gap in traffic.

• Signal and shoulder check.

• Steer steadily into the other lane, looking ahead in the direction you want to go. Keep at least a two-second distance behind the vehicle in front of you.

• Maintain your speed as you change lanes.

• Straighten and centre yourself in the lane.

• Make sure your turn signal is off.

Remember, half the driving world is in your rearview mirror and deserves as much of your consideration as the half in front of your windshield.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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