The Ministry of Transportation recently reported that three-wheeled vehicles are making their way onto Ontario roads. Beginning in March 2016, a 10 year pilot program will attempt to: safely integrate three-wheeled vehicles with other transportation types; evaluate whether the existing road rules are adequate and fitting for the new three-wheeled vehicles; and consider other licensing and operating requirements. As with all things new, Ontario’s pilot program sparks curiosity and concern as to safety and compliance with the existing motor vehicle regulations. It is worth noting that three-wheeled vehicles are currently permitted on the roads of other Canadian jurisdictions, including Manitoba, Québec, British Columbia and Yukon Territory.
Safety is a key concern, particularly given the already high traffic volumes in Southern Ontario communities and on major highways throughout Ontario, as well as the number of motor vehicle accidents that often occur. Over 80,000 drivers were involved in fatal or personal injury collisions within one year, as reported in the latest Ontario Road Safety Annual Report. Almost 10% of the fatalities involved a motorcyclist, which is relevant considering three-wheeled vehicles are, by design, similar to motorcycles in many ways. There is good reason that Ontario is cautiously evaluating safety and compliance for these vehicles over a 10 year period. No one wants to introduce vehicles in a manner that puts drivers and passengers at risk of personal injury.
What is a Three-Wheeled Vehicle?
The Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Act defines three-wheeled vehicles as a vehicle, other than a motorcycle, trailer or competition vehicle, that:
- Is designed to travel with three wheels on the ground
- Has no more than four seats, and
- Has a 1,000kg gross vehicle weight or less
In addition, three-wheeled vehicles cannot have any part of the vehicle, completely or in-part, enclosing the driver or the passenger, with the exception of the front of the driver and the back seat rest. Three-wheeled vehicles must also have straddle seating and a handlebar for steering controls.
Three-wheeled vehicles, also known as motor tricycles, can be designed with either two wheels in the front and one wheel in the back or vice versa. The front-steering “tadpole” design is very popular likely due to the safety when braking. Three-wheeled vehicles, though they closely favor the motorcycle, can be classified as either automobiles or motorcycles. These vehicles can be thought of as a hybrid or cross between two breeds of vehicles. In addition to the number of wheels, another key difference between them and motorcycles is that they are equipped with regular style car seats.
Compliance and Safety
Although three-wheeled vehicles are not new to other parts of Canada, they are still very new to Ontario. The 10-year pilot is meant to safely integrate three-wheeled vehicles with the rest of the driving population and test the effectiveness of current regulations. Drivers on Ontario roads will need to take caution in watching for these vehicles just as for motorcycles and cyclists. Three-wheeled vehicles are smaller and lighter than most other vehicles found on the road and may be less readily visible in the traffic. As in the case of motorcycle accidents, three-wheeled vehicle collisions are more likely to result in fatality or severe injury for riders of these vehicles who are minimally protected in the event of a collision.
As expected, there are safety regulations that will apply to these vehicles, for the protection of all. Infants, toddlers and small children are not permitted to ride as passengers in three-wheeled vehicles. No trailers are allowed on these vehicles. Three-wheeled vehicles have safety features, however, these safety features are limited when compared to the number of safety features for conventional automobiles. The three-wheeled safety features include:
- transmission control functions
- side door mounting
- interior trunk release
- windshield defrosting and defogging
- brake hoses.
- seat belts
Three-wheeled vehicles lack the following safety features:
- hydraulic and electric brake systems
- air brake systems
- occupant protection
- windshield mounting and
- electronic stability control systems
What This Could Mean For Ontario Drivers
The 10-year pilot program means that drivers need to be more alert and on the look-out for these smaller three-wheeled vehicles. It also means that Ontario drivers have the opportunity to themselves test the three-wheeled vehicle experience on our roads. Drivers must hold a full G-class license or higher in order to drive the federally-approved three-wheeled vehicle and riders must wear a certified motorcycle helmet at all times.
The pilot program seeks to ensure that Ontario remains a leader in merging vehicles with transportation technology. Given that the light construction and better gas mileage of three-wheeled vehicles has the benefit of reduced carbon emissions and is in some respects safer than driving a motorcycle, there are certainly advantages in driving these vehicles. However, it remains to be seen whether they prove to be a safe and popular mode of transportation in Ontario.