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Canadian Paediatric Society

Off-road vehicle safety legislation (All-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles)

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles are widely used in rural Canada for recreation, work and transportation. The popularity of off-road vehicles, particularly ATVs, has increased significantly over the past 20 years, along with the number of severe ATV-related injuries and deaths, particularly among children and youth. Between 2001 and 2010, hospitalization for injuries involving an ATV increased by 31%.40 Off-road vehicles are especially dangerous when operated by children and young adolescents. They tend to take more risks and lack the experience, physical size and strength, and cognitive and motor skills to operate these vehicles safely. 

In Canada, snowmobiling has one of the highest rates of serious injury of any popular winter sport, with most injuries occurring among youth.41

According to Parachute’s Cost of Injury in Canada report, 33 children and youth younger than 19 years of age died in 2010 alone due to off-road vehicle activities, while 1,019 were hospitalized.42 The total economic burden for ATV and snowmobile injuries in this age group was nearly $150 million dollars.43

Surveys conducted in the U.S. and Canada also show that youth rarely follow best practices for ATV use. Less than 50% and possibly as few as 24% of respondents wore helmets consistently, and less than one-quarter reported taking a safety training course.44 There is little evidence that youth-sized vehicles with limited speed capacity are any safer than full-sized models. The risk to a child or teen operating a ‘youth model’ ATV is still almost twice as high as that for an adult on a larger machine.

Addressing off-road vehicle safety is culturally and logistically challenging. Legislation, sustained enforcement, engineering modifications and public education are all required. One year after Nova Scotia restricted children younger than 14 years of age from operating ATVs, related injuries in that age group declined by one-half.45 Yet injury rates have increased to almost pre-legislation levels in recent years, suggesting that policies to restrict children from using ATVs have limited long-term impact. Future preventive strategies should also include engineering modifications to improve vehicle safety.46

The Canadian Paediatric Society urges provincial and territorial governments to introduce and enforce off-road vehicle legislation. Children younger than 16 years of age should not be permitted to operate off-road vehicles. Driver education and helmet use should be mandatory.47 48

Province/Territory2012 status2016 statusRecommended actionsComments
 ATVsSnowmobiles   
British Columbia

Fair

Poor

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training. 

Alberta

Poor

Poor

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training. 

Saskatchewan

Fair

Good

Good

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old.

Manitoba

Fair

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training.

Ontario

Fair

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training.

Quebec

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

New Brunswick

Fair

Good

Good

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old.

Nova Scotia

Fair

Good

Good

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation – including snowmobiles – for children/youth under 16 years old on both public and private lands.

Prince Edward Island

Fair

Good

Good

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Good

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old rather than 14 years – the current age limit. Institute mandatory safety training.

Yukon

Poor

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training. Make helmet use mandatory for all ages and on all terrains.

The CPS credits Whitehorse for having stricter regulations.

Northwest Territories

Fair

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training.

Nunavut

Fair

Fair

Fair

Prohibit off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Institute mandatory safety training.

Excellent

Province/territory bans off-road vehicle operation for children/youth under 16 years old. Safety training and helmet use are mandatory.   

Good

Province/territory bans off-road vehicle operation for children under 14 years old. Safety training and helmet use are mandatory.

Fair

Province/territory requires adult supervision of children/youth under 15 years old, and restricts where youth under 16 years can operate an off-road vehicle. Helmet use is mandatory.

Poor

Province/territory has no off-road vehicle legislation, or the minimum operating age is under 14 years old. 

Endnotes

  1. Canadian Institute for Health Information, July 2011. National Trauma Registry Analysis in Brief: Summer is peak season for wheel- and water-related injuries (cited July 29, 2011).
  2. Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2012. Number of hospitalizations due to winter sports and recreational activities, by cause and fiscal year, 2006-2007 to 2010-2011: www.cihi.ca/en/types-of-care/specialized-services/trauma-and-injuries/table-1-number-of-hospitalizations-due-to (accessed April 20, 2016).
  3. Parachute. The cost of injury in Canada report, 2015: www.parachutecanada.org/downloads/research/Cost_of_Injury-2015.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Yanchar NL; Canadian Paediatric Society, Injury Prevention Committee. Preventing injuries from all-terrain vehicles: www.cps.ca/documents/position/preventing-injury-from-atvs (accessed April 20, 2016).
  6. Parachute. All-terrain vehicle safety: www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/all-terrain-vehicle-safety (accessed April 20, 2016).
  7. Jessula S, Murphy N, Yanchar NL. Injury severity in pediatric all-terrain-vehicle related trauma in Nova Scotia. Journal of Pediatric Surgery 2016, submitted.
  8. Yanchar NL; Canadian Paediatric Society, Injury Prevention Committee. Preventing injuries from all-terrain vehicles: www.cps.ca/documents/position/preventing-injury-from-atvs (accessed April 20, 2016).
  9. Stanwick R; Canadian Paediatric Society, Injury Prevention Committee. Recommendations for snowmobile safety. Paediatr Child Health 2004;9(9):639-42.