Tongue-Twisters #2

Is a wheelchair user a “driver” for the purposes of the Road Traffic Acts?

A “driver” is found in the interpretation section of the 1961 Road Traffic Act, nestling in the definition of “driving” which “includes managing and controlling and, in relation to a bicycle or tricycle, riding, and ‘driver’ and other cognate words shall be construed accordingly”.

 The same section of the same Act defines a “mechanically propelled vehicle” as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means, including motorised bicycles or tricycles, and electric cars, but thankfully excluding trains and other rail-led vehicles. Accordingly, for present purposes and to distinguish them from the other parties under consideration, it can be said that motorists are those drivers of vehicles propelled by mechanical or electrical engine or motor, and can be distinguished from pedestrians, who would not be in a car but on foot, and cyclists, who would not be on foot or in a car, but riding on a cycle, and importantly, on a cycle powered by pedals alone, without any attached engine or motor.

But what of a wheelchair?

If we remember that the definition of driving “includes managing or controlling”, that is not much help, as the question must be posed, “managing or controlling” what? In other words, can a person drive something other than a cycle or a mechanically propelled vehicle?

The 1961 Act defines a “pedestrian-controlled mechanically propelled vehicle” as a: “mechanically propelled vehicle which is neither intended nor adapted for use for carrying the driver or a passenger, or which is intended or adapted so that there are alternative methods of driving it, namely, by a person carried on it or by a pedestrian, except during a period during which it is driven while carrying the driver or a passenger”.

One needs to read that definition carefully and often. What it seems to be saying is that electric shopping baskets are not covered by the Act, whilst motorised wheelchairs are, especially when they are used to carry passengers, except perhaps when they are motionless. Perhaps it means something else, but that would entail an exploration of the delights of the literal rule, the mischief rule, the golden rule, and the teleological rule, and one should subject a reader to only so much abuse. What is clear is that a person in a human-assisted wheelchair (in other words, propelled by the user or a helper) is regarded as a pedestrian for the purposes of the Act, including when they are at a standstill.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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