Fun and excitement attract the younger set to motorized wheels. Battery-operated toy cars and motorcycles for children as young as two years old can travel up to 8 km/h. Older children and youths ride power skateboards, motorized scooters, dirt bikes and pocket bikes.
For the older set, motor-powered mobility devices offer a fuel-efficient way to get around. Segways and power-assisted bicycles offer an alternative to walking or cycling. Airports and university campuses use multi-passenger golf carts to carry those who find it hard to walk long distances. Businesses use various motorized conveyances to enhance productivity: for example, in large warehouses.
While all of these devices require a responsible operator (or in the case of very young children, close adult supervision), those marketed for recreational purposes and younger riders pose the biggest challenge to legislators. Should there be regulations for minimum age, parental consent and helmets? Should their operation be prohibited in the public environment? How should these conveyances be regulated under highway traffic acts?
Miniature motorcycles (pocket bikes) have been imported into Canada as a Competition Vehicle, for use in closed-course competition; certain models are even being marketed as ride-on toys for young children. However, these vehicles do not meet Transport Canada safety requirements for use on public streets. They are not properly equipped to ride in traffic, and are hard for motorists to see because they are quite low to the ground. Police must send out a strong message that pocket bikes will not be tolerated on public roadways and sidewalks.
Motorized scooters represent a diverse and growing category. Those licensed as Limited Speed Motorcycles (top speed of 70 km/h) may travel on roads with lower speed limits. Others with motor output over 100 watts are regulated as Restricted Use Motorcycles (RUMs) and may only be used off-road. RUMs include the motorized stand-up scooters sometimes used by children.
Children under age 16 are too young to obtain a full licence to drive a car. Nonetheless, in most jurisdictions they are allowed to ride off-road motorbikes — as long as they stay off the road. Adolescents riding limited-speed and off-road vehicles on public roadways and sidewalks pose the most immediate safety concerns.
Safety legislation affecting riders of these new types of motorized conveyances varies across the country.
Some jurisdictions such as Quebec, allow operators aged 14 and older to ride certain Limited Speed Motorcycles (LSM) on the road. To obtain a permit to ride a scooter or moped, operators must pass a test on the rules of the road as well as a vision test. Those under age 18 must have parental consent. All riders of these vehicles must stay off limited-access highways, wear a helmet and maintain a zero BAC.
In most provinces, operators of Limited Speed Motorcycles must be at least 16. For example, Alberta requires motor scooter operators to have a motorcycle licence, despite the fact that a scooter is a much simpler vehicle to operate and handle than a full-fledged motorcycle. Rules have been changing in Ontario lately, for example riders will require a LSM endorsement or a full motorcycle license. In British Columbia motor scooters 50 cc and less may be operated with any class of driver’s licence.
The Canada Safety Council would like to see increased harmonization, and recommends the following measures to address this emerging issue:
Licensing: Traditional motor scooters and mopeds, often used for transportation, are subject to highway traffic acts. Riders should require a specialized licence, permit, – or endorsement on a general licence. Scooter riders should be able to upgrade to larger scooters without the need to obtain a motorcycle license.
Off-Road Use: Motorized recreational devices — such as skateboards, rollerblades and stand-up scooters — that can travel as fast at 32 km/h should not be used on public roadways and sidewalks. Existing regulations for off-road vehicles such as pocket bikes must be vigorously enforced.
Age Restrictions: Operators of motorized vehicles and devices must be able to make decisions in fast-moving traffic. For riding a motor scooter, power-assisted bicycle or moped on public roads, the minimum age should be 14 years or older with a parental consent requirement.
Helmets: Helmet laws should be extended to cover the whole gamut of wheeled transportation and recreational devices, regardless of rider age and whether motorized or not.
Education: Public awareness campaigns promoting safe riding practices for all types of motorized conveyances are needed. Riders should also be encouraged to take training. (CSC offers a training course for motor scooter riders).