Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Motor Vehicle Definition:

A self-propelled contrivance designed for the carriage of persons or things.

Related Terms: Motorcycle, Vehicle, Bicycle

In Good Electric, Justice Campbell wrote:

"During the past half century and longer, motor vehicles have acquired their own unique characteristics in the several particular judicial and statutory contexts in which they have been found and described. What has been described a motor vehicle for one statutory purpose may not suit the purpose of another.

"In its customary meaning, a motor vehicle has the essential characteristics of a self-propelled contrivance designed for the carriage of persons or things. By definition, railway devices have been excluded.

"If each and every of the self-propelled devices capable of carrying persons and things which are the product of modern technology and human invention were to be classified as motor vehicles then we would be tempted to include in the list aircraft, hovercraft, machines of war and a host of motor driven contrivances not ordinarily associated with the term motor vehicle The point is made to illustrate the fact that the ordinary meaning of the term motor vehicle is not so broad as to include all motorized machines."

In the Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways of the United States, the following definition can be found:

"Every vehicle which is self-propelled, except mopeds, and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails, is a motor vehicle."


  • Good Electric Ltd. v. Thorne 107 D.L.R. (3d) 220; also at 24 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 525 and 65 A.P.R. 525 (1979, Prince Edward Island Supreme Court)

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