Q4. Are electric wheelchairs regulated by traffic law?
As defined under the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374), “motor vehicle” means “any mechanically propelled vehicle”, and “motor cycle” means “a two-wheeled motor vehicle with or without a sidecar”. An electric wheelchair evidently falls into these definitions and should be a motor vehicle or motor cycle.
Yet, strangely enough, the Government does not consider the electric wheelchair a motor vehicle nor a motor cycle, not even an electric mobility device.
According to the “Review of the Use of Electric Mobility Devices in Hong Kong” made by the Transport Department in June 2020, electric wheelchairs are “Motorised Personal Mobility Aids”; and they are “the motorised version of wheelchairs for essential mobility of the disabled and the elderly. Their use on footpaths is considered necessary for these people and the impact on pedestrians is expected to be low, provided that their speed is restricted at a certain level”.
When comparing electric mobility devices (EMDs) and personal mobility aids (PMAs), the Review makes the following remarks: “we are mindful that Hong Kong is a densely populated city and our road networks are heavily used by motor vehicles. We need to take into account a host of local factors in reviewing the proposed regulation of EMDs in Hong Kong, including road and pedestrian safety concerns, traffic environment, road design and associated traffic impacts, as well as the benefits that EMDs may bring to their users. In connection with the last factor, due consideration has been given to the practical needs of the users of motorised PMAs.”
In other words, EMDs are motor vehicles but they will not be registered or licensed because they do not bring forth much benefit to the community; and motorized PMAs (i.e. electric wheelchairs), though within the definition of “motor vehicle”, will not be treated as motor vehicles and thus are not required to be registered or licensed because they serve practical purposes.
One certainly cannot reproach the Transport Department for giving due consideration to the needs of the elderly and the disabled. Nevertheless, just like in the case of electric mobility devices, this administrative measure based on practicality is irreconcilable with the existing law.
Since electric wheelchairs are not motor vehicle, they could not be regulated by the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374). The user of an electric wheelchair, however, should remain vigilant of section 4(8) of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228): it shall be an office if someone “rides or drives on any foot-path without obvious necessity; or in any public place rides or drives recklessly or negligently or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case”.