It has been almost a year since the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a stir in the trails community about “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD). While the rules had been open to public comment during the previous year, many of us shared the same thought: “do they really mean what I think they mean?” And yes, the DOJ rules mean that anything with a motor that can be driven, regardless of size or horsepower, is allowed on your trails and open areas if it is driven by a person who says they have a mobility related disability.

You may not have noticed a sudden surge of electric ATVs or monster trucks on your nature trail. We have seen a rather modest number of trail assessment and policy documents, and I suspect many people are hoping that somebody, somewhere, will come up with “the right answer.” But trail managers who don’t address this issue are open to a very wide interpretation of what a mobility device can be.

American Trails hosted a webinar on OPDMD last spring with Janet Zeller of the U.S. Forest Service helping trail managers understand the rule. The result of 700 people listening and talking about this issue was a deluge of questions. With more help from Janet, we compiled a huge Q and A list. But there were still many questions that simply had no clear answer or precedent in other ADA law. So the DOJ received a list of the toughest problem areas, like animal-powered vehicles, federal funding implications, trail gates, requiring permits, and much more.

Segways are just one kind of device or vehicle that can be considered an OPDMD

We have not yet heard answers from DOJ, who have also had inquiries from many other people concerning their own specific situations. However, part of their job is to help make sense out of what many would call “unintended consequences” of the OPDMD rule. So we have been assured that we’ll be hearing from DOJ in the form of some technical assistance in the not too distant future. When the DOJ issues that guidance we will alert you and make copies available. This is an opportunity for land managers to take a fresh look at their policies and decision-making processes on trail use in general– and to see how people with disabilities might be better accommodated.

Please keep this issue in mind. We’ve assembled the most complete guide to the rule, along with many questions and answers, and examples of local and state OPDMD policies. Here’s a good place to start: Introduction to DOJ rule on “other power-driven mobility devices” and their use on trails.

– Stuart Macdonald, National Trails Training Partnership program manager for American Trails

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