Steve Wallace: A silent threat to pedestrians’ safety
Picture yourself walking at an average pace in a mall parking lot, only to be surprised by the presence of a motor vehicle travelling silently alongside your intended path of travel. This is the reality for many pedestrians interacting with electric and hybrid vehicles every day.
Pedestrians must be more alert in their chosen environment now more than ever. The old rule of looking both ways before crossing the street is now augmented by the general awareness necessary to survive in the modern motor milieu. Silence is no longer golden.
Motor-vehicle drivers are encouraged to use a tap of the horn to announce their presence, two taps to reverse and three to make everyone in the immediate area aware of an unusually unsafe situation. Drivers make good pedestrians. They are very aware of the challenges behind the wheel. Children are much less cognizant of the dangers of a quick action in wheel-driven transportation corridors. Acting as though your head is on a swivel might be the best advice for all travellers.
There are other types of electric vehicles that not only surprise us, but also exceed the estimated or expected speed tolerance of pedestrians and vehicle drivers alike. Motorized bicycles, which are not at present governed by the Motor Vehicle Act, are due to be reclassified in the near future. There will be legislation introduced in the coming session of the provincial legislature to do just that. The legally ridden bikes of this type are restricted to a speed of no more than 32 kilometers per hour and the pedals must be used when under power. There are modifications that can be made to allow for much higher speeds when operating electric bikes. The coming legislation is expected to address this situation.
The lack of an obvious audible noise from electric-powered bikes approaching pedestrian- frequented areas, is another concern. Requiring a bell or a horn, as standard equipment, would be a good improvement.
Some scooters with pedals are another odd mode of travel. They have enough power to travel on our roads and keep up with most side-road city traffic. They do not require a driver’s licence or a licence plate, let alone insurance. This is all expected to be covered by the much-needed and -anticipated coming legislation. In the meantime, there is a huge gap in collision, comprehensive and personal injury protection when no insurance is mandated by the provincial government.
One of my neighbours asked me to clarify the legal use of a Segway: There isn’t one. They are allowed on sidewalks in some California locations, and there seems to be no norm of enforcement throughout various regions of North America. The expected legislation will define the proper and legal operation.
A Nanaimo reader was offended by the operation of an electric skateboard on the sidewalk, and so she should be. She would most definitely be more offended if she witnessed one of the high-powered models keeping up with normal city traffic.
The silent threat to pedestrians is the most troubling aspect of our transportation system. Everyone operating a silent-threat vehicle should pay attention to the feet of pedestrians. They will be pointed in the intended path of travel. Eye-to-eye contact is still the best way to communicate with walkers.
There are so many new options of travel. Rollerblades have been around for a long time, and do not turn heads as was the case when they were first introduced. Mobility scooters are a boon to people having ambulatory problems. We are accustomed to them.
Electricity is a relatively silent source of power. Canada has the most abundant and lowest-cost electricity in the world. Watch for the coming wave of such powered propulsion.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C.
teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.