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driving concerns

Are scooters used by disabled individuals allowed on roads? Increasingly, I see them on roads and in bike lanes. Shouldn't they stay on the sidewalk? – Dave, Toronto

Technically, people in mobility scooters are pedestrians in Ontario – and that means they should only be on the road if there's no sidewalk, police said.

"The Highway Traffic Act doesn't say pedestrians must walk on a sidewalk, but [Section 179] says they must walk on the left side of the road when there is no sidewalk," said Toronto Police Const. Clint Stibbe. "The inference is that it's the duty of the pedestrian to walk on the sidewalk."

Mobility scooters and motorized wheelchairs aren't motor vehicles under the HTA. That means they don't need licence plates, registration or insurance – and you don't need a driver's license or other permit to use one.

As pedestrians, they have to cross at crosswalks, follow pedestrian signals, never cross on a red light and make sure it's clear before crossing.

Ontario regulations and local bylaws ban pedestrians from the 400 series and other highways. In Toronto, for example, pedestrians aren't allowed on the Gardiner Expressway.

Could you be charged for being on the road? Yes, but Stibbe was cautious about saying what you could be charged with.

"There are so many different situations: Were you interfering with traffic? Did you cross without giving cars a chance to stop?" Stibbe said. "Let's just say the fine could be between $50 and $110."

It comes down to safety, Stibbe says – pedestrians shouldn't be on the roads and they shouldn't be in bike lanes.

While drivers have to pay attention and avoid collisions with pedestrians – or other vehicles, that doesn't always happen.

"You need to assume that, no matter what happens in a collision, the pedestrian will always be worse off," Stibbe said.

In Toronto, motorized wheelchairs and mobility scooters are not allowed in painted bike lanes or cycle tracks, which are physically separated from the rest of traffic, said Jared Kolb, executive director at Cycle Toronto.

"We are in favour of changing the law to allow motorized chairs to use bike lanes and cycle tracks," Kolb said. Allowing them in bike lanes would prevent "potential conflict" with pedestrians on the sidewalk, Kolb said.

Stibbe said people in mobility scooters and motorized wheelchairs should follow the same guidelines as all pedestrians:

  • Cross only at marked crosswalks or traffic lights. Don’t cross in the middle of the block or between parked cars.
  • Make sure drivers see you before you cross. If the driver is stopped, make eye contact before you step into the road.
  • Wear bright or light-coloured clothing or reflective strips, especially at dusk or when it’s dark.
  • At a traffic light, cross when traffic has come to a complete stop.
  • Do not start to cross if you see a flashing “Do Not Walk” symbol or the light turns yellow. If you already started to cross, complete your crossing in safety.
  • Watch for traffic turning at intersections or turning into and leaving driveways.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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