It’s the law!

Published 9:33 am Monday, September 1, 2014

AHOSKIE – Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but to understanding the importance of how and why regulations are established goes a long way in educating the general public.

Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh said his officers have noted a recent increase in the operation of motorized wheelchairs on the town’s streets. Regarding the safety of those using such motorized devices, as well as the safety of those operating traditional vehicles, Fitzhugh said he wanted to educate the public over the state laws governing motorized wheelchairs.

“I’ve personally witnessed the operators of motorized wheelchairs put themselves at risk when traveling on our streets,” Fitzhugh said. “What they need to understand is that the operator of a motorized wheelchair is defined by state law as a pedestrian, not as the driver of a vehicle that would travel on the street in a typical manner.”

General State Statute 20-175.5 (Use of motorized wheelchairs or similar vehicles not exceeding 1000 pounds gross weight) says the person operating such device “provides that person with the mobility of a pedestrian, and that person is subject to all the laws, ordinances, regulations, rights and responsibilities which would otherwise apply to a pedestrian.”

Fitzhugh stressed that as a pedestrian, the operator of a motorized wheelchair is not allowed to maneuver that device in the travel portion of a street, as long as there is a sidewalk available.

State Statute 20-174 cites that where sidewalks are provided, “it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.”

“If you’ll take notice, the town invested money into sidewalk cuts and rubberized pads at street corners which make for easier access to our sidewalks by individuals using a traditional wheelchair or a motorized one,” Fitzhugh said. “I would encourage those individuals to use our sidewalks during their travels.”

If a sidewalk is not available, there is a State Statute governing travel in those instances. Section D of GS 20-174 states, “where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the extreme left of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the opposite direction. Such pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to approaching traffic.”

Fitzhugh stressed that pedestrians should always use marked crosswalks at intersections when applicable.

The Ahoskie Police Chief added one other bit of advice regarding another State Statute regarding pedestrians.

“We’ve had some complaints of people here in town standing in the middle of the street,” he said. “I want them to know that, number one, that’s very unsafe, both to them and to the motorists on our streets, and, two, it’s illegal and they can be issued a citation,” Fitzhugh said.

According to the State Statute (20-174.1), “no person shall willfully stand, sit, or lie upon the highway or street in such a manner as to impede the regular flow of traffic. Violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal