Riding Safely Through Summer – ATV Safety

As the summer heats up, more Ontarians are getting outdoors and making the most of the weather. A popular summer time activity for many is riding off-road vehicles (ATVs).  In fact, off-road vehicles have been steadily growing in popularity – from a recreation standpoint and a work use standpoint.   In Ontario, off-road vehicles are described as any two or three-wheeled motorized vehicles intended for recreational use.  In some circumstances, off-road vehicles are allowed access to provincial roads.  However, among some other requirements, these vehicles must have:

    • four wheels, the tires of which are all in contact with the ground;
    • steering handlebars;
    • a seat that is designed to be straddled by the driver; and
    • is designed to carry a driver only and no passengers.

Off-road vehicles are not allowed on rights-of-way (e.g., medians) between opposing lanes of traffic. They cannot operate in a construction zone on a closed highway or within a provincial park unless allowed by the park.

Although called off-road vehicles, these vehicles are often driven on municipal road ways for the purpose of crossing from one property to another (typically in rural settings). It is important for off-road vehicle operators to be aware that there are specific requirements for operating an off-road vehicle on a municipal road, even if it is only to quickly cross from one property to another.  Municipalities have the authority to pass by-laws to define if, where and when off-road vehicle use is appropriate on municipal roads (restrictions vary across municipalities).  In addition, different laws apply to off-road vehicles driven on municipal laws versus off-road vehicles that remain strictly on private property.  For instance, an off-road vehicle must have proper permits displayed and the operator must have a valid driver’s licence if it is being driven on a municipal road.  Off-road vehicle drivers need to take extra precautions when crossing roadways because if that operator is injured and if that operator failed to comply with the law he/she may be disentitled to benefits.

As you can imagine, there are several safety concerns that coincide with the use of off-road vehicles. There is little protection afforded to the driver and, as a result, the risk of severe injury is great.  Combining the risk to the driver along with the fact that off-road vehicles are often used for recreation and it is fairly clear that off-road vehicles can be dangerous.  Hospital studies in South-Western Ontario have shown that many off-road vehicle injuries involve alcohol.  It is imperative to note that it is against the law to drive an off-road vehicle when impaired by alcohol or drugs.  If the off-road vehicle driver is impaired or if the driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test, the police can lay a charge under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Indeed, off-road vehicles can be very useful and can be a lot of fun. But it is important that safety precautions be observed.  It is against the law to drive an off-road vehicle when impaired by alcohol or drugs; operators must observe a speed limit lower than posted limits; passengers are not allowed on off-road vehicles; and the off-road vehicle must have the specified equipment (e.g., head lights, tail lights, working brakes, reflectors, low-pressure bearing tires).  It probably goes without saying, but off-road vehicle operators must wear a motorcycle helmet and off-road vehicle operators are advised to wear full protective equipment.  Nonetheless, from personal experience, we have seen far too many people sustain brain injuries as a result of off-road vehicle accidents.

There are complicated rules that apply to injury claims when an all-terrain vehicle or similar off-road vehicle is involved. Every situation is unique, which is why it is important to review your specific case with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer who has experience in dealing with off-road vehicle injury cases. If you or someone you know has been injured in an off-road vehicle accident, they are well advised to contact a personal injury lawyer.

Nigel Gilby is a Partner at Lerners LLP. He has been recognized by LEXPERT and the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in Civil Litigation.  Nigel has been selected by his peers to appear in the “Best Lawyers in Canada” publication since its inception.  Nigel can be contacted at 519-672-4510 or by e-mail at ngilby@lerners.ca.

Christopher Dawson is an Associate lawyer at Lerners LLP. Christopher can be contacted at 519-672-4510 or by email at cdawson@lerners.ca.


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