Motorized Wheelchair Users are Pedestrians
Technology 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.
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.
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.