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The residents of Canada’s west coast have a bit of a reputation for being, shall we say, overly relaxed. There’s even an unofficial time-zone (“West-Coast time”) that explains why stores close at 4:00pm on Thursday nights in December, and why urgent phone calls are returned three days later. But like everything, that’s only half the picture. There is a secret side as well. Because we also¬†have the¬†super organized (the official term begins with “A” and sounds like banal). I’m sure it is that group who develops all the acronyms.

We sure love to complicate language here on the West Coast. Did you know we have MACs, LSMs and motorcycles here?

MACs, or motor-assisted cycles, can go up to 32 km/h and are treated pretty much the same as bicycles, except that you must be 16 or older to drive one. You don’t need a licence; you don’t need insurance; you are required to wear a bicycle helmet; and, you are expected to obey all the traffic laws as would any cyclist.

LSMs, or limited-speed motorcycles, have gas engines no bigger than 50cc and have a maximum speed of 70 km/h. It must be registered, and you must have insurance and a licence (of any type) to ride them. You are also required to wear a motorcycle helmet.

A full-fledged grown-up “motorcycle” (as opposed to a limited-speed motorcycle) is a machine with an engine size larger than 50cc.

Personally, I have a different definition. If you can cross your legs while seated, you’re on a scooter; if not, you’re on a motorcycle. My definition doesn’t hold water here in B.C. But then, I do come from away.

The scariest thing about these scooters is that you don’t need a special motorcycle licence to ride them.

Let me assert here that the most dangerous vehicle operator on the road (no matter the wheel-count) is one who does not know what they are doing. Because scooters don’t require a motorcycle licence, often the scooterists don’t understand the complexity of single-track vehicle travel.

Earlier this summer, I almost ploughed into a scooterist while driving my car.

I was driving behind this curb-hugging scooterist. He was cautiously driving 10 km/h under the speed limit, and I was eager to put this guy behind me. But until I had a safe and legal opening, I was stuck meandering behind him.

At one point, he did a very sloppy shoulder check (causing his scooter to wander out into the lane) and then he pulled back into his curbside scoot. A count of two passed. Because he continued to amble forward, I assumed he had seen me and was tucking in back to the curbside so that I could pass him. According the road marking and the absence of oncoming traffic, I was good to go.

Giving him a very wide berth (and thank goodness I did), I accelerated and moved out to drive around him — just as he veered out for a left-hand turn, from the far right-hand curb.

Half-expecting this, I slammed on my brakes. Tragedy was averted, this time. Next time, perhaps he won’t be so lucky.

Just the other day, I saw a scooterist do the exact opposite. Instead of hugging the curb, he was six inches away from the centre line. Barely capable of 50 km/h in a 60 km/h zone, the fellow was inviting the tailgating car behind him to pass him on the right, on the curb side.

Scooters — I mean LSMs — offer an incredibly economical solution when it comes to finding an alternative to car travel. But for goodness sakes, be Smart. Here’s a handful of tips:

  • A speed as slow as 10 km/h is enough to plant gravel in your biggest organ (skin). Dress accordingly. And women, while a skirt might look nice on that magazine cover, it’s not so nice when it’s bunched around your waistline as you slide along the pavement.
  • Tighten that chin strap. If it means you buckle it up first, do so.
  • Respect the traffic laws. The black-and-white road sign with that big arrow on it means one way; pedestrian crossings are iconographically marked with a person for a reason.
  • If you can’t do the posted speed limit with any dignity, don’t ride the road. (Also, it’s vaguely illegal. See section 145 of Chapter 318 part 3 of the Motor vehicle Act.)
  • Take a motorcycle or scooter safety course.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends drive scooters, including my dear mother and the guy who roasts my coffee beans, neither of whom I (ever) want to offend.

So a tip of the hat to all you scooterists who have taken the time to take a course and ride by the rules. I’ll salute you with my signature full-arm wave next time our paths cross.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Santowski is also a workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.

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5 Responses to “Rules apply to equally to two-wheeled scooters”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:09 pmB

    Response received by email

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    Britt. I tried to send you my response to your bias article about scooter drivers un fortunately it was returned for reasons unkown, so Im going to try again.It was quite apparent to me you are targeting the whole scooter world and include medical scooters, you are totaly unaware of what you speak,firstly, most medical scooters are tested,personal using are medically checked by occupational therapists and are required to obtain a doctors note,plus aware of the rules of the road. In your article you apparently are not aware of the rules of the road,or ,as the law says ” you must be in CONTROL of your car at ALL Times. I guess you missed that part in your far away town.I have a new up to date scooter and the max speed is12.8 km/h. If your article did not include Medical Scooters,then your coloum should have so stated. Please the future get ALL the facts right first. Thank you.

    B

  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:10 pmP. G.

    Response received by email

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    Dear Ms. Santowski,

    Opps, did the editors take something out of your otherwise excellent article? It seems to go from LSMs, under 50cc “motorcycles”, which could include some very light motorcycles as well as small-engined motorscooters, directly to anything on which “you can cross your legs while seated”.

    My neighbour has a Suzuki on which I think one “could cross your legs while seated”, but it is something like 600cc and he seems to ride it just about as fast and as far as I do my 944cc Ducati Sport Turismo II. These larger scooters are all but left out of your article.

    Of course, the article is really about the problems that arise from low powered, low speed vehicles when they are not operated judiciously on the road. On that subject I could not agree with you more. I am also a bicyclist, a pedal cyclist, and the same goes for safe operation of these “unpowered” vehicles. Many riders do not ride them safely at all. In their defense, many of the well intended but misguided provisions made for cyclists treat them as pedestrians-with-bicycles, rather than as vehicular road users.

    I have read that in Europe safe cycling instruction is part of elementary education because that is when they begin to ride bikes to school. None of this peculiarly North American nonsense of careening out into the street without looking or riding after dark without lights. Think how that early instruction must add to their safety as vehicle operators when they later get to the motorized versions.

    Keep up the good work on the two wheeled front.

    PG

  3. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:10 pmJ. R.

    Response received by email

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    Loved your article about Scooters ,thank you…….reader J.R.

  4. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:10 pmarthur black

    Response received by email

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    Dear Britt

    Just a note to tell you how much I enjoy your ‘Ride Alive’ column in the T-C. As a recent course graduate and five-year scooter rider (I felt your cringe) I appreciate your words of wisdom and your sly wit.

    Keep up the good work!

    arthur black

  5. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:20 pm"P"

    Response received by email

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    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy and learn from your column. I am a 56 year old woman who has just recently earned my motorcycle license. I failed the final road test a month ago, because I was going too slow. The next column I read of yours (after failing) gave me alot of advice which I took heed. (regarding unsophisticated riders, dominant position etc. I have tried to read every article of yours and all have given great insight. Thankyou. I passed the road test with only one demerit, so to speak. I know I am still “unsophisticated”, however you are enabling me to be better informed. Thanks again,

    P.

    P.S. glad you address the scooter riders…always cringe at the cute little women in their sundresses!

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