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Behind-the-Wheel

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.



More Behind the Wheel articles

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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 Castanet.net.

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



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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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