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Drivers and wheelchair users need to watch out for each other

Staff Report • Sep 14, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Motorized wheelchairs are becoming a common sight on local sidewalks and on some city streets. Their presence on busy thoroughfares have officials in municipalities across the state asking questions about the safety of both those in the wheelchairs and the motorists they may encounter.

The police chief of Dayton recently told City Council members there that the number of people seen using motorized wheelchairs on that city’s street has gone from two to more than 20. Dayton officials said they were concerned with the safety of motorized wheelchair users who take to city streets after dark.

Under Tennessee law, people in wheelchairs are subject to the same rules of the road that apply to pedestrians. Johnson City Police Sgt. Scotty Carrier says that means those in motorized wheelchairs should use sidewalks whenever they are available. If there is no sidewalk, Carrier said a person in a wheelchair is allowed to travel on the street facing oncoming traffic.

State law also provides a stipulation that allows pedestrians and people in wheelchairs to travel streets with the traffic flow if doing otherwise poses a hardship.

It is not uncommon, however, to see people in motorized wheelchairs traveling with the flow of traffic on busy Johnson City streets even though there are sidewalks available. One reason for this may be ignorance of the law. Another could be the simple fact that the sidewalks in some areas are in pretty bad shape.

Regardless of the reason, people both in motorized wheelchairs and vehicles should be mindful of one another on city streets. They’ll probably be seeing a whole lot more of each other in the coming years.

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