When Is a Wheelchair a Pedestrian and When Is It a Vehicle?

Via the St. Petersburg Times, an emerging gray area in traffic law involving a fatal crash between a scooter and a motorized wheelchair, also known as “mobility scooters”:

If considered a pedestrian, a charge could be as simple as jaywalking. If he was operating a vehicle, it could be as serious as reckless driving.

The decision could boil down to the size of the wheelchair motor.

“There’s issues in there about wattage, horsepower, things like that,” St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. “Speed is also a factor. They want to get to a point where they have a comfort level.”

The case could have repercussions in a city where motorized wheelchairs, also known as mobility scooters, are common on streets and sidewalks.

People operating wheelchairs typically are considered pedestrians. But because Kurczaba’s wheelchair is motorized, police said they will examine the accident in greater detail before considering whether charges should be filed.

(HT to Shirl)

This entry was posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Traffic Culture, Traffic Enforcement. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “When Is a Wheelchair a Pedestrian and When Is It a Vehicle?”

  1. Andy Says:

    If it’s capable of going more than 10mph on flat ground, it should definitely be considered a motorized vehicle. I’m not sure what the typical powered wheelchair has in terms of speed, but I think most are below this. I have seen gas powered, and heavy duty electric ones that are capable of 20mph or so, which in my opinion are not “pedestrian.”

  2. Thomas Says:

    It’s also a matter of size.

    I’ve seen mobility scooters that are larger than and can keep up with a 50cc Vespa-style scooter or a small go-cart. If these things are vehicles, then a mobility scooter is likewise.

    As far as this accident goes, if the thing can go significantly faster than a healthy person at a brisk walking pace, then it stands to reason that it poses the same dangers as a vehicle and should be considered one.

  3. Josh R Says:

    Personally I think “brisk” walking pace is too much a lot of the time. I work at a library and we get some people whipping around in mobility scooters at speeds that don’t amount to much when compared to a car, but are far too fast for inside a building. It’s an annoying disconnect that people see these scooters buzzing by at 10-12MPH and don’t see anything wrong, but if a teenager ran by at the same speed, they’d be considered reckless and told to slow down, despite the fact that the teen can stop far faster and has less mass to cause injury if a collision happens.

  4. Jay Says:

    I didn’t realize they were getting so fast. Supermarkets will need speed limits in the aisles.

  5. David Hembrow Says:

    FWIW, in the Netherlands, wheelchairs and mobility scooters are legally bicycles.

    The existance of a decent network of cycle paths makes them much more useful for actually getting somewhere.

  6. anonymouse Says:

    I’d put them in the bicycle category myself, or whatever category electric-assist bikes go in. It fits by speed if nothing else, and there are electric-assist bikes with motors, which seem like a pretty close fit in terms of classification. I don’t think I’d mind sharing a bike lane with a 12 mph mobility scooter, but I’d definitely mind sharing a narrow sidewalk.

  7. Mark Says:

    Where I live in Maine, the sidewalks are brick and poorly cleared in the winter after a snowfall and often rough going by any vehicle year around. There seems to be a trend among the more daring mobility scooterers to take to the street and I don’t blame them. As a bicyclist, I do my best to make common cause with them. The more people in the street who aren’t encased in cars, the better for all of us.

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