Motorized Wheelchair Users are Pedestrians

Motorized WheelchairTechnology is a wonderful thing. Those of us whose mobility is restricted have had their capabilities enhanced through the use of motorized wheelchairs. A number of readers have observed that the operators of these scooters seem to drive them wherever they please and are concerned for safety. What rules do their operators have to follow?

This is a good question, as 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 fits this definition and can be considered as a motor vehicle for the purposes of the Act.

However, this does not mean that all wheelchair users have to worry about drivers licenses and such. In section 2 of the Act it states that the Motor Vehicle Act and it's Regulations shall not apply to the driving or operation of a mechanically propelled invalid's 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 person in any type of wheelchair is considered to be a pedestrian and must follow pedestrian rules.

These machines are capable of moving their occupant at significant speeds, often more than twice the walking pace of an adult. Given their size and weight, they are dangerous when misused or used carelessly.

There are no rules about what side of the sidewalk to use, how fast to go or penalties for misbehaviour except perhaps assault or criminal negligence under the Criminal Code.

With that in mind, in 2013 the Union of BC Municipalities indicated to the province that it would support regulating the use of motorized mobility aids (including motorized wheelchairs and scooters), as well as the licencing of these aids and their operators. The provincial government should implement these provisions under the Motor Vehicle Act.

The province responded that it intended to research best practices in other jurisdictions and develop a framework for the safe operation of motorized scooters and personal mobility devices.  The Motor Vehicle Act would be reviewed to determine whether amendments are required to support safe operation of motorized scooter and personal mobility devices.

To date, there has been no indication of progress on the issue.

The provincial coroner also recommended scooter regulation in 2008 after several scooter-riding seniors died in crashes with vehicles. There have been 30 deaths recorded from 2008 to 2018 in BC.

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
1 6 1 0 6 2 3 3 4 1 3

An informal poll on the Global News web site recorded 236 votes for and 33 votes against the idea this evening. Ultimately, your answer to this question is probably determined by whether you see a person with a mobility aid or a driver in a motor vehicle.

Many of the people making this column request 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.

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This is a subject that I am, unfortunately, very painfully familiar with.  There DEFINITELY needs to be some kind of licensing, and new laws regarding all wheeled vehicles mixing with "on foot" pedestrians - including motorized mobility carts. As well, all new roads need to be designed with a separate path for on foot traffic separate from any and all wheeled vehicles.   Any currently well-travelled pedestrian routes to the downtown should have changes made to include a "foot traffic only" path.

I am very happy to hear new laws and licensing could be in the works but I will believe it when I see it and hope this is not just swept under the rug and forgotten.  Forgive me if I sound jaded, but I have to say I often wonder why we waste the time and money it must take to bring a law into being, when it seems that when most people don't abide by them anyways if it inconveniences them we rarely see any enforcement on them either so it all seems rather pointless.  Bikes on sidewalks, no helmets, talking on cell phones driving and biking.  On any given day in Kelowna if you just stand on the corner of, i.e., Hwy 97 and Ellis, you will see 4 out of 5 drivers on their cells, but that's an issue for another time.  I will just say that I think any accident that occurs where it is established that the at-fault person was talking on their cell phone should be publicized as just that - ditch the label "distracted driving" and tell it like it is, "texting or talking on their cell".  People do not like being called out for doing really stupid stuff and if we pick up the paper every day and actually see where that has been identified as the cause of the accident then who knows...people might think twice.

I am a young 61 year old woman who enjoys staying active and part of that means I walk a lot - including walking 30 minutes each way to and from work to the downtown area daily - at least I used to.  I have a lot of miles on my sneakers and I have a lot of experience - none of it good - with "wheeled transportation" mixed in with "on foot" pedestrians.    I am now very much on edge walking anywhere in my home town of Kelowna, B.C. due to several instances regarding wheeled traffic - one with very serious consequences for me.  

As a pedestrian I have encountered many "near catastrophes" from all forms of wheeled transportation on sidewalks.  Most of the incidents occurred from behind with no warning, and no way to take evasive moves.  For example, I have sidestepped a dog mess on a sidewalk while walking and been hit by an adult on a bicycle who was attempting to pass me from behind.  He gave no "ring of a bell", shout, nothing - he was just going to go around past me.  No serious injury occurred to me other than soreness from his handlebar but he was actually mad at me!  He had no helmet on so if he'd been upset from his bike he too could have suffered injury.  When you are walking on a sidewalk you are just not expecting silent, wheeled traffic coming up fast on you from behind - at least you shouldn't have to - they move way faster and are way heavier than a person on foot.

In another incident I was only able to dodge out of the way of a kid on a skateboard coming from behind because I could hear the wheels of the thing.   I really didn't know what to do - stop still, or jump one way or the other.   Not having eyes in the back of my head I had no idea which direction he was going to take - I opted to stop dead in my tracks and turned my head to see what he was doing.  Not only was he just gliding on the board, he was looking down at his cell phone and hadn't even noticed me and had I not heard him and looked back he would have clocked me.  I had time to jump out of his way, yelled and startled him into looking up.  He just thought it was funny.  Me, not so much.

The accident which gave root to all these fears I have while walking now, occurred while walking to work about 2 years ago, when I too was hit by a motorized mobility cart coming from behind me, shoved out into traffic, and then ran over by the thing once I hit the ground.

I suffered a broken elbow, cuts and scrapes from hitting the ground, and severe bruising from my shoulder to my ankle.  To this day I still suffer stiffness and aching in that elbow.  I was an avid golfer which is still painful to do some days. 

Because it was an unlicensed cart, not considered a "vehicle" but actually considered a "pedestrian", I had absolutely no recourse against this person and they just wheeled away and that is just not right.  I wasn't covered by ICBC because the thing wasn't required to be licensed. I was lucky my break did not require surgery which it well could have had it not healed properly.  My doctor was livid when he saw me and couldn't believe the things are not required to be licensed.

It happened as I was standing at a red light on the corner of Ellis Street and Hwy 97 in Kelowna, heading north to cross 97. I was on my way to work at 7:30 in the morning.  There were 3 other people waiting as well.  None of us heard a thing but all of a sudden I felt a pressure from behind me, something was propelling me forward and shoving me off balance.  My foot was caught under the wheel and as I tried to catch my balance I was propelled out into the street.  As my foot, and by now my lower leg as well, were caught under the cart and wheels of this very heavy thing pushing me forward and down to the ground, I could do nothing to stop it.  I can only thank God that I was able to twist my body towards Ellis, where the traffic was stopped for the red light, and that's where I landed,  not shoved forward into the Hwy where traffic was speeding past or I would not be writing this letter today.  People ran to help me up and this fellow just looked down at me from his cart.  I could see no little license plate on the front, nor on the back, as he just wheeled away.

I found out later, as I spent many hours on the phone in the days and weeks afterwards trying to find out all I could about the rules regarding these carts, that they are not required to be licensed, nor are the riders required to take any classes on operating them.  I was told by the police that they were supposed to travel on the sidewalks and were considered the same as "bicycles".  When I said far as I knew "bicycles" weren't supposed to be on the sidewalks either he just said we have to be more careful when we are walking and share the space.  Helpful.

When I called ICBC, I was told that they aren't licensed because "they aren't heavy enough, or go fast enough, to cause any serious damage".  I'm lucky I'm here to tell you they are.    Those things are silent (they may be equipped with bell ringers but I haven't heard anyone use one).  They can weigh up to 500 or 600 lbs and go up to 10mph.  Once you add the weight of the person, plus any cargo in the baskets, it can be near 700 or 800 lbs.   How does any sane person think that isn't heavy enough to do harm against an on foot pedestrian? My husband took many pictures of my injuries that I can show anyone who would like to see how much damage they cause.

About a year after being hit by that mobility cart, I was almost flattened by another one again, when walking out of the door of a hair salon in the Capri Mall.  As I opened the door to step outside, a lady on a motorized cart sped down the sidewalk.  I had to jump back inside the establishment and the lady bounced her cart off the door - and again I took the verbal abuse!

If you know of anyone I can phone, or anything I can do, to be pro-active in helping to get safe travel ways built for foot pedestrians, and also get these dangerous VEHICLES licensed, please let me know.  They are motorized after all, even if they are electric or battery.

By the way, whenever I am relaying my story to people, many of them have one to relay to me about similar close calls with bikes, skateboards, and these carts while walking so mine is not an isolated incident by any means - we just don't have any recourse so calling anyone to report it is useless.

Also, I want to clarify that I was told by the police I could file suit in Court but I had no idea who the man was so scratch that idea.  He just drove away quick as a bunny so I had no name against whom to file a suit, and no license plate to note the number to trace to get a name.   He sped off immediately so I'm sure he was aware as long as he took off pronto no one would find out who he was and avoid just such a suit.  You mention needing a regulatory framework and that is exactly right - we certainly do.  I will do as you suggest and write to our MLA and hopefully it's just one of many letters.    Good luck with getting permission to use that video - educating the riders is a very good start.

Also, the police officer who told me "they are required to drive on the sidewalks and should be considered the same as bicycles" meant the carts are supposed to be on the sidewalks but I, as a pedestrian, should take the same care watching out for the carts on the sidewalks as I would a bicycle, on the sidewalk, even though the bike isn't supposed to be there.   Sorry, I wasn't very clear in my letter.  However, you can't protect yourself from either if you are walking and they are speeding up from behind silently, as I've learned.

More and more now the bicyclists are simply using the sidewalks whether they are supposed to be there or not, as they don't feel safe on the roads and I can't blame them either.  However, they, along with the mobility carts and skateboards, are taking over the sidewalks and squeezing out the foot traffic.  I don't see any easy or cheap solution to this as I think a separate foot traffic pathway is the only way to go as it's only going to get worse. Cars on the roads, mobility carts, bikes, and skateboards on their own path, and foot traffic on their own path.  The foot traffic path doesn't need to be wide or fancy, just separate.  Kelowna roads are just way too crazy busy to venture out on a bike for a lot of people and I don't see that getting any better until we get a bypass system, something like Kamloops has.

I am happy you are putting the issue of the mobility carts in the spotlight and I'll watch for new developments.  It is wonderful that people with mobility issues have access to vehicles like them to get around but they really are dangerous in a lot of cases.  One close call or accident might be explained away but I've had way too many close calls, as have others so it's a common occurrence.  The Abbott Street pathways are perfect and lots of room for everyone to bustle about safely and they should be used as a model for other roads I think.  In the meanwhile, I will stick to hugging the buildings and walls as I walk and keep my fingers crossed!


That thing is ridiculous - even has a flippin car stereo deck and speakers built in.

At the manufacturer's stated weight of 348 lbs without a rider and a 11km/h speed there is no doubt that this can cause injury or death. Especially considering that it has full weatherproof enclosed cabin - this thing can be on public side-walks even in the rain (drastically improving its ose of on-road time). And because of the enclosed cabin it now has blind spots!

Assuming a 70kg rider - this thing can "carry" 1018.62 Joules of kinetic energy at its maximum speed!

Compared that to an average 30lbs bicycle with the same rider weight "carrying" 372 Joules only - that's three times the "punch" in a collision.

Well, in perspective, the same bike at its top speed of 30km/h can "carry" a 2775 Joule "punch" - but bikes are not allowed on sidewalks - this monster is!

My thoughs on "restrictions" for these mobility scooters:

1. walking speed of 6km/h

2. no weatherproofing (hand-held umbrella OK)

(manufacturer specs)

As a pedestrian, I don't walk down the road at night , wearing non reflective clothing, with my back to traffic.   Many wheelchair users do (ride that is) . Some WC users may have anger issues, or just entitlement issues (like drivers).

I think standardized and written Codes of Use / Conduct should be developed. Gets everyone on the same page.

I think that anyone using those motorized scooters/wheelchairs/mobility devices should not be allowed to go faster than a normal walking individual - there is no way to control those devices safely around others when going so fast.

I find these scooters a hazard whether on the sidewalk or the road. I got hit by one of these scooters in a grocery store.

As luck would have it one of the owners of this store happened to be a few feet away and was able to ask the person to take this very large scooter outside, park it and come in to shop using a buggy to also him with walking. This man was more than capable of walking around the store.

These unit are no longer allowed in this store.

As I was bleeding I the lower leg area the staff took care of me.

The owner of the scooter never said "sorry".

While I see many people using motor scooters as you describe on highways. Usually on the side, it was my understanding.

These vehicles are to be limited to side walks, unless in a crosswalk.

The speed to be limited to walking speed. As you say as a pedestrian.

I have also read of a death on a sidewalk, where a pedestrian was rundown.

There are now so called electric scooters, that are beyond what is required for a Handicapped person.

Here in Campbell River, I met an older man, who was driving an off road scooter. Four wheel, heavy tread tires. This scooter had solar cells fitted around the battery. For charging when parked. It also had a trailer hitch, for a trailer, to haul camping equipment or Game.

Apparently no license or plate was required.

I live near the Superstore on Metral and right adjacent to the store are two mobile home parks from which older incapacitated seniors emerge on their electric buggys and some drive on the sidewalk and some on the road close to the curb.

I think that they shouldn’t be on the road for their own safety, the sidewalk makes sense to me but as the machines are very quiet some sort of noise device to warn pedestrians of their approach would be in order.

Then the cost factor kicks in, who would pay for the installation of a noise device or other audible warning and I’m darned if I know what to say about licensing of carts and drivers?

Operators of motorized scooters & their caregivers (if any) must ensure adequate & proper lighting exists on the vehicle together with seat belts. Safety comes first.

It would also be nice if the people using the motorized wheelchairs were a bit more careful with pedestrians.  I just about got whacked by one in a shopping mall.  It would be interesting to know how many people get hurt with wheelchairs moving too fast?  Fortunately, this is not the norm.

Technology has outpaced our legislative and regulatory response to keeping seniors safe. The MVA  needs to be amended to further define classes of mobility aids and to restrict their size and power. Tell me if the “scooter” in this promotional video should be on the sidewalk or the roadway. It shows both.

The flexibility of form that e vehicles have lends itself to misuse. Is there anything preventing a driver whose privileges have been suspended from operating a vehicle such as shown?

Yes, the one I saw at my in-law's retirement complex shown as a draw prize for all the residents in the company's various homes in the area was much like the one you provided the link for.

At 41" wide, there is no way that this should be permitted on a sidewalk or in the aisles at Walmart.

The only way someone could be charged with driving while prohibited / suspended in one of these is if they were not handicapped. The MVA considers a disabled person operating one to be a pedestrian. An able bodied person would be a driver.

I certainly agree, this is a small car, not a mobility aid.

Bill 35 - 2019 amends the definition of pedestrian in the Motor Vehicle Act:

"pedestrian" means

(a) a person on foot,

(b) a person using a human-powered wheelchair,

(c) a child in a stroller, or

(d) a person using a regulated motorized personal mobility device that is prescribed for the purposes of this definition under section 210 (3.2);

When proclaimed in force, non-human powered wheelchairs may be regulated differently than they are today.

Here we go again.

the Guy in the cart, runs down a pedestrian, and because he is unlicensed, she has no way to press charges, or be paid for her damages. But, heaven forbid, that same guy pulls out in traffic and has a collision. He can sue ICBC for damages. WTF?

I agree. There should be a separate path for foot traffic, and one for wheeled traffic. Get these unlicensed vehicles off the roadway!

and I think it would make a hell of a lot more sense than cutting down our already narrow driving lanes....when they designate a bike lane.

I will stop there, everybody is well aware of my position on bikes and scooters on public roadways. 

Thanks for the highlighted link.

so that woman could have sued Mr. Wildwheels if she could have ID'd him?

I know people who are elderly, who use these because they have no license, it travels faster than they can walk, and it can carry their groceries, where they could not, for long distances. But they don't fit the description of hsndicapped, and no doctor prescribed the scooter. So they should be licensed.