Guidelines issued for motorized wheelchairs

City of Dunkirk streets have seen an increase in recent years of the use of motorized wheelchairs. On occasion, car and truck drivers, along with pedestrians, have been left wondering what kind of rules apply to these modes of transportation.

The Dunkirk Police Department has issued guidelines for the operation of motorized wheelchairs in the city at the request of the Common Council Public Safety Committee.

“The guidelines will be given to operators of motorized wheelchairs by our police officers so they can be aware of the safety issues related to operating their chairs. It is the intent of the police department to make these operators aware for their safety, as well as the safety of other vehicles operated on city streets,” Police Chief David Ortolano stated. “We hope that we will have voluntary compliance to these guidelines, as the safety of these operators is our top priority.”

The chief added the safety guidelines pertain to Article 34-C of the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law and asked operators of the motorized wheelchairs to review and follow the regulations.

The regulations begin with the requirement of a safety helmet comparable to a bicycle helmet. The wheelchairs must be equipped with front and rear lamps and the operator must wear brightly colored or reflective clothing if operating 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.

The wheelchairs also need to be equipped with a brake, and a bell or horn; operate along the right-hand curb line except when making a left turn, entering a crosswalk or there is a traffic hazard; and operate single-file and yield the right-of-way to motor vehicles and pedestrians, including yielding the right-of-way when entering a roadway.

Only one person is allowed per wheelchair and the operator must have one hand on the steering wheel at all times. Operators must be at least 16 years of age and a parent can be charged for allowing someone younger than 16 to operate a wheelchair. Operators at least 18 years old must report any accident that occurs.

There are speed limits as well, with the top sidewalk speed at 8 miles per hour with pedestrians having the right of way. Local law can prohibit sidewalk use and wheelchairs can only be operated in speed zones of 30 miles per hour or less. In addition, motorized wheelchairs are required to follow the same vehicle and traffic laws as a motorized vehicle.

“Thank you for your cooperation with these regulations, please operate your wheelchair safely,” Ortolano advised.

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