Power chairs are not motor vehicles

I'm a new power-chair owner, and I would appreciate knowing what is legal with regard to traveling in the power chair on Medford's sidewalks and streets. The chair has a maximum speed of 6 mph, but I drive along at about 3-4 mph. The chair is black. I usually wear a yellow jacket and have an orange pennant flying, plus a red, flashing bike light on the mast. From my brief experience, I can say that traveling in the street, next to the gutter, gives a smoother ride than on even the newest sidewalks. Leonard Avenue, where we live, is a low-traffic street with frequent driveway ramps for a fast exit back onto the sidewalk. How legal is that? — Richard K., Medford

Richard, what you're calling a power chair is, I believe, defined as an "Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device" in Oregon statutes, and it has its own little section in the Oregon Revised Statute under ORS 814.550-554.

Some highlights to this section are that an EPAMD is not considered a motor vehicle for purposes of the vehicle code. It is considered a vehicle — just not a motor vehicle.

The law equates an EPAMD with a bicycle as far as rights and duties of the operator whenever the person is using a bicycle lane, bicycle path or any part of a highway. A person using an EPAMD on the sidewalk is subject to any applicable provisions and has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian.

Some applicable laws concerning EPAMD users are that a person cannot operate one on a highway with a designated speed limit of greater than 35 mph. It cannot be operated on a bicycle lane, bicycle path or highway at a speed greater than 15 mph (sounds like you're good there.) It cannot be operated in a careless manner when on the sidewalk and cannot carry a second person.

So, based upon my reading of the statutes, you are allowed to use your power chair in the street, but you would have to obey the rules of the road as a bicyclist would. This would include using the right-most portion of the lane whenever possible, signaling and stopping at lights and signs.

The last part of the section dealing with EPAMDs says a local agency may regulate or even prohibit use of EPAMDs. I checked with Lt. Hansen at the Medford Police Department to make sure I didn't give you an opinion against a city ordinance, and he informed me that Medford has no extra restrictions on EPAMDs and that the Oregon statutes would apply.

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