Spring weather in B.C. means scooter enthusiasts like Kimli Welsh are dusting off their two-wheelers to take on the road.  

"It's literally hop on and you go. It's a lot of fun, I've got the freedom to go absolutely anywhere," says Welsh, who began riding scooters in 2006, practising for about a month riding at a parking lot.

"They're fantastic, lower cost ways of getting around, but it comes with associated risks," she said. "More could be done to make people aware of those risks."

Kimli Welsh headline image

Kimli Welsh calls scooters a fantastic way to get around, but says they also come with risks.

Welsh says she sees some moped and scooter riders break the rules of the road with potentially-risky moves such as "lane-splitting" or "filtering," in which two-wheeled scooters or motorcycles squeeze in-between two lanes of traffic.

Welsh says while it's a legal practice in other countries, it's not in the Lower Mainland and she doesn't condone it.

"I have a responsibility as a vehicle operator to follow the rules of the road," says the Vancouver resident. "I'm not going to do things that would put me in danger."

But not all scooter riders know the rules for two-wheelers, and not all of them are licensed as motorcycle riders.

No road test for limited-speed motorcycles

Under B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act, only scooters with an engine larger than 50 cc (cubic centimetres) require a motorcycle licence and "limited speed motorcycles," which include scooters with 49-cc engines and smaller, require only a valid driver's licence.

'People don't tend to think of them as real vehicles that they have to really learn about and prepare for.'- Tania Meyer, executive director of the Kelowna and District Safety Council

Safety advocates say the lack of mandatory road tests makes the low-speed scooters more popular, and also means too many novice riders are able to ride without proper training.  

"People don't tend to think of them as real vehicles that they have to really learn about and prepare for," says Tania Meyer, executive director of the Kelowna and District Safety Council.

"It's so easy to hop on a 49 cc scooter where you don't have to prepare yourself and take a test, and if you don't have to take that test, people don't tend to do any studying or preparation for keeping themselves safe on the road"

Statistics released by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia show that in 2012, roughly three per cent of the province's 9,400 limited-speed motorcycles were involved in some sort of crash.

And Meyer says that just because you haven't gotten into an accident doesn't necessarily mean you're a good rider.

"It might just mean we're really lucky, or it might mean other drivers are keeping out of our way if they notice we're being dangerous," she said.

Meyer's group is calling for changes that would require drivers of low-speed scooters and motorcycles to undergo testing and licensing.

"Within the industry, it's something we've really been encouraging at the provincial level," she said.

Kimli Welsh

Kimli Welsh suits up to ride her Vespa: "I see people riding around in improper gear, like shorts and flip flops. It's really dangerous." (Michelle Eliot, CBC News )

Welsh, who eventually upgraded from her original 49 cc Vespa scooter to a ride with a 250 cc engine, now has a motorcycle licence to go along with her higher-speed vehicle. 

And she agrees that slower-scooter riders should get taken out on road tests.

"Riding a scooter is very similar to being in a car, but at the same time it's very different. I think it couldn't hurt to have that extra level of knowledge" she said.

BC's Ministry of Justice said there are currently no proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act in relation to limited-speed motorcycles.


Scooter Safety Tips

  • Stick to the rules of the road. Avoid lane-splitting or using bike lanes
  • Increase your visibility with brightly-coloured gear and proper use of turn signals
  • Get to know your route and adjust for potholes or heavy traffic
  • Wear proper gear

Source: ICBC, Kelowna and District Safety Council