Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Motor vehicle or bicycle? Law must decide

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The death of a man driving a gas-powered bicycle a week ago in Toronto is raising questions about the legality and the lack of regulation surrounding such vehicles.

The Toronto fatality took place after the man aboard the gas-powered bike, a small engine strapped to its frame, collided with a car in Toronto's east end.

The bikes aren't terribly common but are becoming more popular and are on the radar and becoming a headache for Ontario police services.

The bike involved in the fatal Aug. 23 crash had a maximum speed of 42 km/h. But Toronto police said after the crash a gas-powered bike was spotted driving at 80 km/h on a Guelph road earlier this month.

Toronto traffic Const. Clinton Stibbe said officers were "blown away at how fast he was going."

And well they should be. So, too, should Ontario's citizens and its lawmakers.

These bikes have a capacity to create significant safety problems -- as evidenced by the Toronto death and the Guelph speeder. And the laws governing the use of these bikes aren't clear.

Stibbe suggested the Ontario traffic laws surrounding them amount to a "really strange grey zone."

That's because the bikes still have working pedals. So if the cyclist is pedalling, both criminal law and the Highway Traffic Act consider it a regular bicycle.

But if the cyclist fires up the engine -- typically by squeezing a lever on the handlebar -- the ride becomes a motorized vehicle. Then, the cyclist is prohibited from using bike lanes. If pulled over for drinking and driving, the operator can be charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle rather than a less serious careless driving charge. Police believe the Toronto bike-crash victim may have been impaired at the time of the fatal collision.

Some motorized bikes are considered mopeds by the Ministry of Transportation's definition. But many are not. The bike involved in the Aug. 23 crash, made by a Chinese manufacturer, doesn't meet Ontario's commercial motor-vehicle safety standards. Those standards oblige motorized bikes to have safety features such as a horn, lights and braking requirements. Bikes failing to meet these standards don't require insurance or licence plates, as do mopeds.

This is a problem area. Lawmakers must pay attention to this.

Perhaps a coroner's inquest into the Toronto case would hasten needed action on this matter.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2012 A13

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