EDITORIAL: A matter of mobility

Proposal to regulate the use of motorized mobility aids may be a case of fixing something that isn't broken.

A proposal to regulate the use of motorized mobility aids – to be debated at next month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention – seems, at first blush, to make some sense.

Most of us have probably seen instances of these personal vehicles – including wheelchairs and scooters – being mishandled by users, raising legitimate concerns about their own and others’ safety.

There are those who operate them too fast, or without due consideration, on pedestrian walkways. Others, apparently unaware of traffic patterns around them, have shown a propensity for operating the aids on the road, or making sudden, ill-advised dashes into crosswalks – behaviours that suggest accidents waiting to happen.

That said, mandatory licensing and regulation may be the proverbial case of fixing something that isn’t broken.

After all, these aren’t simply vehicles. For many, they are a replacement for legs, a crucial element in their independence and ability to get around.

And, as far as we know, there are no plans to similarly regulate people using their legs on public walkways… yet.

This issue seems to have stemmed from a 2008 provincial coroner’s recommendation, after three seniors died in collisions on Vancouver Island. But it would behoove those arguing either side to have an accurate picture of the scope of the problem today – just how many mishaps have there been locally, regionally, across the nation and beyond?

Before making a rash decision, further study is needed – not just of those who use these mobility aids irresponsibly, but those who operate them without incident. Lawmakers must also ask what penalties would be imposed for unlicensed drivers, and what level of government would be involved in policing them.

There is also the question of how, exactly, we would deal with guests from other jurisdictions where such licensing is not required. Do we offer on-the-spot testing or training, perhaps offering an “L” or an “N” to visiting dignitaries?

More realistically, one could envision erratic users receiving warnings, with persistent offenders ultimately being banned.

But if the majority of mobility-aid users are operating them responsibly, there can be few reasons for mandatory licensing – other than as a new source of cash for government.