By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
ST. JOHN’S – On May 19, the province announced that the use of helmets will be mandatory when using off-road vehicles. Additionally, if seatbelts have been installed by the manufacturer, they will also be deemed mandatory.
Digital Government and Service NL said the purpose of the new Off-Road Vehicles Act is to enhance safety for all off-road vehicle users.
“There are significant and life-threatening risks associated with the use of off-road vehicles, as indicated by a high number of accidents, injuries and fatalities throughout the province.”
Vehicles without seatbelts installed by the manufacturer do not require them to be added, but all riders must wear helmets.
“The risk of serious injury or death is greatly increased when helmets are NOT worn, especially given that the average speed of off-road vehicles has increased since the 1990s.”
The new regulations have received widespread support from manufacturers and ATV groups.
“Based on the full and comprehensive review completed to inform the development of these new safety requirements, it is overwhelmingly clear that requiring operators and passengers to wear a helmet is the most effective means to ensure their safety. Furthermore, it is consistent with requirements in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Québec, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.”
The regulations, which will encompass all off-road vehicles, even if they are enclosed, doesn’t include agricultural equipment, infrastructure equipment, a garden lawnmower, lawn tractor, or golf cart. The department added that it anticipates lower numbers of injuries and deaths associated with off-road use.
“From 2013 to 2019, on average, across all provinces and territories, 100 people in Canada died from unintentional ATV events annually. In 79 per cent of all cases, the final cause of death was reported to be an injury sustained during the incident, such as a fatal head, chest or spine injury. Risk factors associated with ATV-related fatalities most commonly reported by coroners and medical examiners include alcohol or drug consumption, condition of the terrain and whether a helmet was worn.”
In addition to these new regulations, the department is focusing on raising awareness.
“Increased understanding of key aspects of the legislation such as supervision of young operators, towing, operating on or across a highway and safety equipment (including helmets and seatbelts) will also help ensure increased attention to safety when using off-road vehicles.”
The Off-Road Vehicle Act will include some fine increases which have a purpose of aligning with similar offences under the Highway Traffic Act. Rick Noseworthy, President of Newfoundland T’Railway Council, said the legislation was falling behind the technology.
“These machines are getting bigger and faster, and the side-by-sides came in, when they came in, helmet legislation was there for snowmobiles and ATVs, but it wasn’t there for them. So the new legislation encompasses the side-by-sides. So the timing was good for that and also, it gave a little bit of comfort to people who are going down the side of the road to get to trails, who are being perfectly law-abiding citizens, only when they drove on the road they were criminals, and the new legislation changed that. So it’s good timing. It needed to be done.”
As with any such change, there has been an anticipated blow back, but it seems to be calming down.
“The overall response is positive, but like with anything, you get the vocal minority. It’s no different than the pushback they got 30 years ago when they brought in seatbelts; when they brought in no smoking in public places, in bars and restaurants. I’ve even noticed, in the past couple of weeks, the pushback for the helmets has seemed to subside, and speaking to some ATV dealerships, they’ve noticed an uptake in sales of helmets.”
Overall Noseworthy is very happy with the new legislation.
“I do have a bit of a problem with an exemption for hunters because I think they are very vulnerable because of the nature of what they’re doing. They are hunting, so they may not fully be paying attention, but for the most part it is better than it was before and I’m glad they did it.”
Noseworthy believes this new legislation will do exactly as intended.
“This will save lives, Helmets save lives, it’s been proven in every jurisdiction, every safety organization in the world, all the manufacturers, all the provinces who are bringing in new legislation are bringing in helmets because we all know that helmets will save your life, no different than a seatbelt.”