Powered Wheelchairs and Sidewalk Safety

Covered ScooterWhen it comes to writing about motorized wheelchairs it is usually that they belong on the sidewalk with other pedestrians and not on the roads with the other vehicles. Less often it is that they don't need licence plates or insurance when operated by someone with a disability. Who would have thought that it might be about driving into and killing another pedestrian on the sidewalk? It happened in Burnaby two days ago.

These machines are a boon to those of us whose mobility is challenged and are capable of moving their occupant at significant speeds, often more than twice the walking pace of an adult. Clearly, they are dangerous when misused or used carelessly. With that in mind, the province indicated to Union of BC Municipalities in 2013 that it intends to develop a coordinated plan for safe operation of motorized scooters, including possible amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act. The provincial coroner also issued recommendations supporting scooter regulation in 2008 after several scooter-riding seniors died in crashes with vehicles.

Currently, driving powered wheelchairs amounts to the same thing as walking. 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. Perhaps this is the way it should be as the wheelchairs are not motor vehicles according to law.

Should motorized wheelchairs be regulated by ICBC? 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.

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What is this?

A Smart for 1?

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: http://0b996d8a81b9cfa4a861-9c1613a5739e394df233fc02a87950de.r22.cf2.rac...)

Submitted by E-mail

I am so very sorry to hear that someone lost their life being hit by a motorized mobility cart but it doesn't surprise me in the least and I would like to tell you my story.

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.


Additional Comments

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!

Submitted by E-Mail

I think it should come down to common sense and courtesy.

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.

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