‘Boomerbuggy’ adds to Sarnia’s confusing road diversity

Henry Windler and his new Boomerbuggy. Journal Photo

Troy Shantz and George Mathewson

Henry Windler has been turning a lot of heads in his central Sarnia neighbourhood lately.

The 88-year-old retiree is the first in Sarnia to drive a Daymak Boomerbuggy. The battery-powered one-seater is half the size of a Smart Car and comes equipped with a heater and windshield wiper for bad-weather driving.

And because the Boomerbuggy is technically classified as a mobility vehicle, it doesn’t require a driver’s licence or insurance to operate, according to its Canadian manufacturer.

Windler said his egg-shaped vehicle, which cost nearly $7,000, is perfect for running short errands around town and a great alternative to walking.

The Boomerbuggy adds to a rapidly changing traffic landscape in Sarnia, which has seen a marked increase in the number of mobility vehicles, scooters and e-bikes competing for the road.

Their growth in a traffic mix still dominated by gas-powered cars and trucks has raised questions about what’s legal and not legal.

Under the Highway Traffic Act, mobility vehicles are required to follow the same rules as pedestrians. That means they can be operated on the sidewalk, and, if they take to the road, should be driven facing the traffic flow, said Sarnia Police Const. John Sottosanti.

“We ask individuals to make sure they have a horn on it,” he said. “We encourage them to have an orange flag… so they can be seen coming.”

Dave Matchett, the owner of Sarnia E-Bikes, said his dealership and repair shop in Mitton Village is moving as many as five e-bikes and mobility vehicles a week.

E-bikes especially have proven an affordable alternative to anyone needing to get around, he said.

“It’s got all the safety stuff that a motorcycle would have but it’s a bicycle … There’s also people that like the green idea.”

For about $1,500, anyone 16 or older can buy an e-bike, no licence or insurance required.

Under the Highway Traffic Act e-bikes, like bicycles, must flow with the traffic, follow all posted road signs, and cannot be operated on the sidewalk. Unlike adult cyclists, however, e-bike riders must wear a helmet approved by the Department of Transportation and they are not permitted locally on the Centennial Park boardwalk or the Howard Watson Nature Trail.

Depending on battery size, most have an operating range of 30 to 70 kilometres.

It is also illegal for an e-bike to have a power output that exceeds 32 kilometres per hour, and that is often a point of contention.

Matchett said he is well aware some owners make modifications to increase speed, and it’s something he doesn’t condone.

“We get a lot of blown-up bikes that way,” he said, adding Sarnia Police are always on the lookout for modified ‘Frankenbikes.’

“Once you modify them and change what the manufacturer has done you’re running the risk of not meeting safety (regulations),” Sottosanti said.

Some owners do purchase insurance for e-vehicles through home and renter policies, but Matchett said he hopes insurance never becomes mandatory.

“It gives people access,” he said. “It’s a big thing if you can’t get to work.”