As teenagers return to school and students return to campuses, there is inevitably increased traffic on the roadways. This traffic can include more than just motor vehicles. Other modes of transportation, such as rollerblades and skateboards, also have an increased presence. This may leave drivers and the people utilizing these types of equipment confused about what rules of the road apply to them.
How these types of non-motorized transportation should be treated in Ontario has long been subject to debate. Are they to be classified as "vehicles" or are the people riding them "pedestrians"?
The Highway Traffic Act ("HTA")1 governs conduct on most public roadways in Ontario. Section 1(1) of the HTA defines a vehicle as follows:
"vehicle" includes a motor vehicle, trailer, traction engine, farm tractor, road-building machine, bicycle, and any vehicle drawn, propelled, or driven by any kind of power, including muscular power, but does not include a motorized snow vehicle or a streetcar
Seemingly, by this definition, skateboards, rollerblades, and other devices powered by muscular power are "vehicles" under the Highway Traffic Act. If this were true, that would mean that anyone operating this equipment would be required to abide by the same rules of the road under the HTA as those for motor vehicles and could accordingly be fined for contravening the Act.
However, the courts in Ontario have, for the most part, disagreed with this interpretation of the legislation. In 2009, four people were stopped by police for longboarding (a longboard is a device very similar to a skateboard) on a road in Owen Sound and were charged with Careless Driving under the HTA. A justice of the peace at the Provincial Offences Court dismissed these charges, citing that the longboard equipment was not considered a vehicle under the Highway Traffic Act.
Largely in response to this decision, and to dispel with the ambiguity of the Highway Traffic Act, various counties across Ontario have created bylaws that restrict skateboarding, rollerblading, longboarding, and the like on roadways or highways in their jurisdiction.
According to the City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking, for example, skateboards, roller-skates, in-line skates and "similar devices" are prohibited on any road or street where there are sidewalks, except for the purpose of crossing the road. This implies that, when there is a sidewalk, skateboarders or people operating similar devices must use them instead of the road. When they are crossing the road, they are considered a pedestrian and afforded all the rights thereof. When there is not a sidewalk on the roadway, skateboards, rollerblades and similar devices can be used on the roadway but, as "pedestrians" their operators must be on the left side of the roadway, facing oncoming traffic, and must proceed as close to the left edge as possible.
Similar bylaws have been created in Ottawa, Kitchener, and Guelph, among others. The idea that skateboards, roller blades, and the like are "vehicles" under the HTA has been largely dispelled. The downside to this, as a rollerblader or skateboarder, is that you are likely not insured if you cause an accident on a roadway. If you are injured, or cause injury to others, there will likely be no insurance available to respond. There are exceptions to this rule, however, such as if an actual motor vehicle is involved in the collision. For that reason, it is critical that you consult a lawyer if you are injured in any scenario involving such equipment.
In summary, skateboards, roller blades, and other muscular-powered devices are, for the most part, not considered to be motor vehicles in Ontario. If you are operating this equipment on roadways, you are best to keep to the sidewalks or, when sidewalks are not available, keep as close to the left side of the roadway as possible, facing oncoming traffic. Drivers should treat anyone on such a device as a pedestrian and yield the right of way to them.
1. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8. h76
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