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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Dawson is an Associate lawyer at Lerners LLP. Christopher can be contacted at 519-672-4510 or by email at email@example.com.