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Safely Navigating Your Insured ATV and Other Off-Road Vehicles

Recently, another serious All-Terrain Vehicle (“ATV”) crash sent a young woman to hospital with head injuries. A few weeks ago, the newspaper reported that a 13-year old boy died after his ATV rolled over in a field on the family farm.

Tragically, news of this nature is becoming much more common. The use of off-road recreational vehicles such as ATVs for fun and recreation has increased dramatically over the years. It is also not unusual to see such vehicles on public roadways, and for these vehicles to be driven by young people including minors. Over the years, technological advances have made cars and SUVs safer to drive. At the same time, our society’s outdoor recreational culture has given rise to an increasing number of rollovers, crashes, and alcohol-related incidents involving ATVs, especially in the summer months.

Off-road vehicles are, in fact, regulated, although there has been a great deal of confusion as to whether they are subject to the same insurance programs as cars. The Off-Road Vehicles Act and its regulations prescribes rules for ownership, use and operation of such vehicles as ATVs. If you use an ATV for recreational purposes, this article will provide you with a basic summary of your obligations as an owner, driver or passenger.

What Is Covered by the Off-Road Vehicles Act?

The following classes of vehicles are considered “off-road vehicles” for the purposes of the legislation:

  • Dune buggies.
  • Vehicles designed for use on all terrains, commonly known as all-terrain vehicles, that have steering handlebars and a seat that is designed to be straddled by the driver.
  • Vehicles designed for utility applications or uses on all terrains that have four or more wheels and a seat that is not designed to be straddled by the driver.
  • Suzukis, Model Numbers LT125D, LT50E, LT125E, LT185E, LT250EF and LT250EFF.
  • Hondas, Model Numbers FL250 series and TRX200.
  • Yamahas, Model Number YFM 200N

Who Can Drive?

Surprisingly, children are permitted to drive off-road vehicles. However, there are certain conditions attached to this permission. Under no circumstances can a child under the age of 12 drive an off-road vehicle, UNLESS that person is operating the vehicle on land owned by the owner of the vehicle, and while under the close supervision of an adult. Clearly, this condition is meant to capture a situation where the vehicle is being used privately and on rural properties, particularly in situations where family members may be involved in agricultural activities on farm property.

No one under the age of 16 can drive the off-road vehicle on a public highway unless they have a valid G2 or M2 license.

Registration and Insurance Provisions

Off-road vehicles must be plated, and drivers issued a permit, by the Ministry of Transportation. Off-road vehicles may not be driven on a highway, unless the driver has a driver’s license and is crossing a highway pursuant to his or her agricultural business. The vehicle must bear a “slow moving vehicle” sign.

An off-road vehicle must be insured by a motor vehicle insurance policy. The driver and owner must carry evidence of insurance, in the same way a car owner is required to do so. Failure to provide proof of insurance when requested by a peace officer may result in a fine or penalty. The exception to this requirement is where the vehicle is driven on land owned or occupied by the owner of the vehicle. Hence, private use and operation may be permitted without insurance. This exception is meant to capture family members who operate off-road vehicles on their own properties. It does not extend to individuals who may bring their off-road vehicles for use and enjoyment on the property of others. For example, if you brought your ATV to your friend’s cottage for the weekend, the insurance obligations imposed by the Act would still apply.

I strongly recommend purchasing motor vehicle insurance if you own an ATV, or adding the ATV to your existing motor vehicle insurance policy. If an accident arises and you or your passenger are injured, you may be entitled to accident benefits, including income replacement benefits, funding for medical and rehabilitation expenses, etc.

As many of you may have witnessed personally, or as you may have read about in the local news media, when used for recreational purposes off-road vehicles carry significant risks. Driving at high speed or over uneven terrain can cause occupants to be ejected, or cause collisions with stationary and non-stationary objects. Drivers and passengers MUST wear a helmet while operating or riding an off-road vehicle. Although the statute is silent on the issue of seatbelts, where the vehicle is equipped with seatbelts then you would have a duty to wear them as well.

A driver can be charged with the offence of careless driving, if they drive an off-road vehicle “without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons.” Furthermore, just as the owner of a car is liable for the negligence of a driver who operates a car with the owner’s consent, where the driver of an off-road vehicle is liable for damages or injury arising out of the operation of the off-road vehicle, then the owner is jointly and severally liable as well. This means that if you allow someone to operate your ATV, and they are involved in a mishap that triggers a lawsuit for injuries or damages, then you will be automatically named in the
lawsuit as the vicariously liable owner.

Can You Operate an ATV on a Public Roadway?

Off-road vehicles as described above can in some circumstances be operated on public highways, provided there are no passengers on board. The vehicle must be registered with a license plate, and insured under a motor vehicle insurance policy. In addition, the driver must be at least 16 years of age, and hold at least a valid G2 or M2 license.

These vehicles must travel at speed limits below the posted limits and bear a “slow moving vehicle” sign. For example, where the road has a posted speed limit of 50 km/h or less, the maximum permissible speed limit for the ATV is 20 km/h. Under no circumstances is an ATV to be operated at more than 50 km/h, and under no circumstances can the ATV travel on a 400 series highway, the QEW and certain sections of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Certain ATVs are not permitted on public roadways. These include the 2-up ATV that has handlebars and a driver’s seat with a passenger seat directly behind the driver, and, a side-by-side ATV with a passenger and driver sitting beside each other. However, these ATVs can cross a highway where the driver is at least 16 years of age and holds a valid driver’s license.

Protect Yourself and Your Passengers

The law recognizes that these are potentially dangerous vehicles, and not toys. Children should not be permitted to drive them.

Accidents involving ATVs can be potentially deadly or life-threatening. Always operate the vehicle in a safe and considered manner, while wearing a helmet. Insurance will protect you in the event of an accident in the same way it would if you were operating a car and was injured in the course of doing so. In the event of injuries, statutory accident benefits may be accessed to provide coverage for such benefits as income replacement, medical and rehabilitation needs not funded by OHIP, attendant care and, in the event that the injury is catastrophic, housekeeping benefits.

Do not take your personal safety lightly, and the safety of your friends and loved ones. Speak to your insurance agent about insuring your off-road vehicle.

Najma M. Rashid is a partner in Howard Yegendorf & Associates and its sister firm, BrazeauSeller.LLP. She practices in the areas of personal injury and insurance law. To learn more about Najma and her practice, please visit www.yegendorflawfirm.ca, or www.brazeauseller.com. She can be reached at nrashid@yegendorf.com or 613-237-5000 ext 243.