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Motorized Use of Trails by Individuals with Mobility Disabilities

Back in March of 2011, MLTN reported on a Department of Justice (DOJ) rule related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and motorized use of trails that was going into effect at that time. The rule requires an entity open to the public to make reasonable modifications in its policies, practices, or procedures to allow the use of "other power-driven mobility devices" by individuals with mobility disabilities. We originally reported via our Infoline newsletter that most land trust trails would be considered "back country trails" and that land trusts need only be concerned about this ruling if they had trails that were designed, constructed and promoted as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Our understanding of this rule has changed; it is now clear that land trusts must comply with the ruling unless they can demonstrate that the trail entity has completed an assessment that has determined that the class of "other power-driven mobility device" cannot be operated in accordance with legitimate safety requirements or one or more of the assessment factors in the rule. The DOJ rule lists specific factors to consider in making this determination.

What does this mean for Maine land trusts? It means that if they have trails that are open to the public, they must allow use of "other power-driven mobility devices" on those trails unless they can document that they have completed an assessment before the person requesting use of the device arrived onsite, and have found that the class of other power-driven mobility device in question could not be used in that location due to one or more of the following DOJ assessment factors:

  1. "The type, size, weight, dimensions and speed of the device;
  2. The volume of pedestrian traffic (which may vary at different times of the day, week, month, or year);
  3. The design and operational characteristics (e.g., whether its service, program, or activity is conducted indoors, its square footage, the density and placement of stationary devices, and the availability of storage for the device, if requested by the user);
  4. Whether legitimate safety requirements can be established to permit the safe operation of the other power-driven mobility device in the specific facility; and
  5. Whether the use of the other power-driven mobility device creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources, or poses a conflict with Federal land management laws and regulations."

Trail managers have to evaluate their trails to determine whether golf carts, Segways, ATVs, and even automobiles, can be used on their trail. There should be a sign at the trailhead indicating that the trail manager has evaluated the trail and has determined that (for instance) no motorized vehicles can be used. This is likely to be a safety issue due to the volume of pedestrian traffic, or an issue of protection of the natural resources and cultural resources (*back country trails). The signage should be addressed to the handicapped user, and no person should actually ask a user of "other power-driven mobility devices" whether they have a handicap, or the nature of the handicap. You can ask them if they have a handicapped license card, but even if they don't and they say that they need the mobility device for access, you must allow it unless you have done the evaluation assessment and signed the property before the access is sought. Here are some suggestions for trailhead signage.

Signage Suggestion 1:
No Motorized Vehicles Allowed
DOJ Assessment Completed.

Signage Suggestion 2:
Motorized Wheelchairs Permitted
No Other Motorized Vehicles
DOJ Assessment Completed.

For more information on the DOJ ruling including commonly asked questions and their answers, visit the American Trails website.

This article was prepared with assistance from Karin Marchetti Ponte, General Counsel for Maine Coast Heritage Trust.