of the ATVs
by Joanne Healy
(ATVs) are the biggest selling off-road vehicles in Ontario,
outselling snowmobiles 2-1. For the last four years ATV
purchases have grown by 2,000 each year, with price tags
ranging from $6,000 to $12,000. This year sales reached
20,000 in Ontario alone.
But are ATVs just
another motorized toy for the boys, or are they the last
straw for a wilderness already under siege? To encourage
tourism, changes were recently made to the Highway Traffic
Act, allowing ATVs access to interlinking highways. With
thousands of hectares of Crown land open for taming, this
new, in-your-face, outdoor activity is set to explode.
means big problems for Mother Nature, warns Josh Matlow,
director of Earthroots, an environmental activist group.
Why promote a recreational activity that uses fossil fuel,
when we are committed through the Kyoto agreement to reduce
been no studies on their impact. It's imperative the provincial
government creates clear policy where ATVs can go and must
provide money for enforcement."
"They go off-road because
they're attracted to unspoiled wilderness,
but ATV riders are quickly spoiling what they love."
Earthroots and the
Ontario Federation of Naturalists recently completed surveys
of Ministry of Natural Resources conservation officers.
The data confirmed that there is little being done by the
government to study the issue. "Not one person is responsible
to track and monitor ATV impact," says Melissa Tkachyk,
Earthroots wilderness campaign co-ordinator. "We know
there is damage happening because we're hearing of examples
The biggest assault
on the environment by ATVs are when they go off trails,
Matlow points out. "They go off-road because they're
attracted to unspoiled wilderness, but ATV riders are quickly
spoiling what they love."
When ATVs carve
their own trails, it opens up untouched forests to other
vehicles by creating more roads. This puts pressure on lakes
they tend to overfish, wildlife they disturb through noise,
and populations they deplete with hunting.
One afternoon of
thrill riding can result in rutted hillside slopes, crushed
and uprooted small trees and plants, and unrecognizable
streams and creeks torn up by large, knobby ATV tires. The
very design of an ATV, with ballooning, low-pressure tires,
four-wheel drive, and squat motorcycle-like chassis with
brush protection, begs to be taken into soft, muddy soil
for maximum four-wheeler fun. Splashing through forest streams,
plowing through delicate wetlands, and careening down slopes
lead to soil erosion and habitat loss affecting the watershed,
aquatic populations and all life intertwined in that ecosystem,
explains Bruce Fleck, a Bancroft district forester with
the Ministry of Natural Resources.
"We get lots
of reports of damage from ATVs, but after the damage is
done, there's nothing the MNR can do but try to repair it,"
He points out there
is no reason for anyone to go off trails with so many forest
access roads on Crown land. The MNR now requires logging
roads be abandoned by removing culverts, but completely
closing a road is difficult, he says, because "ATVs
will just go around a blocked entrance."
In a quest for new
challenges, ATV riders are forcing their way deeper into
virgin territory, slicing and dicing the landscape into
a jagged quilt of erosion and degradation. Kawartha Highlands,
a 3,500-hectare Lands for Life Signature Site north of Peterborough,
was showing the affects of uncontrolled off-road vehicle
rallies with several scarred and eroded sections. The advocacy
work of environmental activists and local citizens' groups
saved it in the nick of time from becoming a motorized recreation
reserve. The Highlands was given provincial park status
MNR policy towards
ATV damage is more a bandaid approach than a solution. Big,
cobble gravel is placed at water crossings, and ruts in
roads are bulldozed to channel water flow into ditches to
prevent erosion and contamination of creeks and streams.
Some possible measures
the MNR may consider in a new forest management plan is
requiring an off-road vehicle permit to help pay for maintaining
water crossings and removing culverts.
The management plan
for Algonquin Park prohibits ATVs and snowmobiles. An exception
is made for snowmobiles on the hydro-line between the town
of Whitney and Haliburton. Away from public roads, visitors
rely primarily on muscle power for transportation and must
travel on trails, portages, and waterways by means of foot,
canoe, hand carts, and, where designated, by bicycles, horses
in provincial parks is restricted to low-impact activity
such as hiking and canoeing, says Algonquin Park naturalist
Brad Steinberg. This increases the number of visitors the
park can handle while providing people with a "better
chance to experience Algonquin's environment and values.
At the same time, biotic and physical resources are protected."
Blame the rider
not the machine, says Ontario Federation of All-Terrain
Vehicle clubs (OFATV) president, John Broderick. He points
out most riders are considerate and many, such as rural
residents and less mobile people, use ATVs as legitimate
transportation. According to Broderick, low-pressure tires
actually ensure low compaction of vegetation allowing an
experienced operator to travel "lightly" through
an area. As for air pollution, early ATV design used a two-stroke
engine, but many newer models use a cleaner, fuel-efficient,
He does agree some
people are giving the activity a bad image, and he's hoping
to change the attitudes of reckless riders through education.
"I'm not naïve enough to think everyone will get
on board, but most people want to be good and stay on the
trails," says Broderick.
of rugged terrain and treacherous waterfalls, conquered
by ATVs named Predator, Scrambler, and Trail Blazer, don't
reflect the attitude towards nature for most Ontario residents.
Polls show 90 percent want provincially owned natural spaces
left wild and untouched. A marketing strategy that accentuates
a sense of freedom through dominating nature does nothing
to reinforce the message to drive responsibly. Fleck says
advertisements in Western Canada educate ATV users to stay
out of creeks- but the message hasn't reached here.
riding style plays a role in environmental impact. "Most
people don't realize they're doing anything wrong,"
"We are all
judged by our worst player. All we can do is to continue
to promote safe, environmentally sound riding, and good
trail etiquette. We believe people will be conscientious
if they're told in a polite, non-confrontational manner,
especially in a club context."
OFATV formed in
1999, and has grown to 15 clubs in 17 districts throughout
Ontario. The Tread Lightly Canada Program was adopted to
promote proper procedures for riding with little or no impact
on the environment. To encourage sticking to authorized
routes, clubs are developing long distance trail systems
to link communities, similar to what snowmobile associations
have done. Also similar is third party liability insurance
available for members.
concerns, another issue is quality of life for local residents
bombarded with noise pollution from ATV riders using rural
roads like playgrounds.
Barbara Kirk moved
into her dream home in Hastings Highlands last year and
discovered she was living in an ATV nightmare.
"I loved to
sit on the porch and enjoy the peace and beauty of God's
country," she recalls. "But then I became afraid
to go outside. ATVs charge up our hill and spin around on
the road sounding like helicopters. Our road is badly chewed
Mrs. Kirk also worries
for the safety of her 13-year-old daughter riding her bike
or walking along the road.
The Combermere resident
says cottagers coming north for fun on weekends and holidays
are the culprits while her neighbors use their ATVs mainly
OFATV is well aware
of the noise problem, says Broderick; they encourage members
not to replace the ATV's original stock exhaust with an
aftermarket accessory. Some clubs have set decibel limits
on their trail systems and will revoke the $125 membership
cards of violators. "Some ATV users mistakenly believe
installing a more powerful exhaust is better, but it's not-just
noisier," he says.
With underage drivers
already illegally operating ATVs on roads, the new legislation
allowing ATVs on shoulders of many provincial highways is
asking for trouble, claims Bill O'Borne, a landowner in
Hastings County. On his narrow, paved road he often sees
two to three children piled onto one ATV. "All under
12-years-of-age and none wearing helmets," he points
out. "With pickups and logging trucks using this road,
it's an accident waiting to happen."
Is the new legislation giving
and their children
the dangerous illusion of safety and legality?
most ATVs be ridden by one person only, with no passengers
because the machine handles differently, has different weight
distribution, and a different centre of gravity when a passenger
is riding behind the driver. There is also a possibility
of the passenger interfering with the driver.
ATVs are called
"off-road" vehicles for the very good reason they
are not designed to be used on roads. Heavy lugs on ATV
tires provide great traction in soft and loose soils, but
are unsteady at high speeds on paved roads. Is the new legislation
giving parents-and their children-the dangerous illusion
of safety and legality?
The amendment allowing
ATVs to travel on shoulders of many provincial highways,
excluding the 400 series, came into effect August 1, 2003,
but only pertains to ATV operators with a valid driver's
license. Highway shoulders in Ontario vary from less than
60 centimetres to more than two metres depending on design
standards and when the road was built. In sections where
there is no shoulder, as on Highway 28 E. near Bancroft,
or on roads where a shoulder is impassable, ATVs are allowed
to drive on the paved portion.
very concerned about the new legislation because it's a
bit of a confusing mess right now," says OPP Sgt. Dave
Fletcher, provincial co-ordinator for Off-Road-Safety. For
example, ATVs are allowed on the shoulder of Highway 118
from Bracebridge to Haliburton but not the connecting link
of area roads in Dysart Township in Haliburton. ATVs cannot
turn onto any intersecting roads because that requires a
According to Sgt.
Fletcher there was no announcement from MTO (Ministry of
Transportation) advising people of the change to the Highway
Traffic Act, and there is no educational material from the
MTO for the public. The OPP have been distributing their
own material on the amendment.
"If we don't
get the education out there, our statistics for collisions,
and fatalities and personal injuries are going to go through
According to an
ATV fatality analysis done by the OPP, there were 11 deaths
investigated in 2000, and a total of 22 deaths of ATV users
from 1997 through 1999-an increase of more than 50 percent.
Nine of the victims were male and almost all were operating
the vehicles. More than half did not use a helmet and all
were ejected. In the majority of cases alcohol was a factor.
"The new legislation
wasn't even posted on the e-law website until August 26,
and since then we have been educating our police officers.
Cottage country already has many ATVs riding illegally,
but we may be able to control them with municipal bylaws
restricting time of day and where they can travel."
While the MTO claims
safety is a top priority, Faraday Township Reeve Carl Tinney
warns: "Someone is going to die on these roads. When
an ATV meets a pickup truck, we all know who's going to
be hurt. We can try to pass a bylaw restricting their use,
but we can't regulate brains."
Trespassing is a
major thorn in the side of private landowners like O'Borne.
He has witnessed
ATVs tearing down the middle of a creek near his home. A
photo of the ATVs splashing through the creek ended up in
an outdoor magazine promoting the area as a great place
come off snowmobile trails and the Hastings Heritage Trail
and drive right past 'no trespassing' signs and onto my
land. We can't walk on our trails on weekends because it's
He points out the
other danger: ATV operators aren't covered by insurance
if the driver has a serious accident on his property. "Even
while trespassing, it is the landowner who will be sued,"
he points out. Reeve Tinney believes police "turn a
blind eye" to illegal ATV use, and don't lay charges
because "everyone has them."
Sgt. Fletcher admits
catching ATV users breaking the law is a challenge because
cruisers cannot follow the off-road vehicle into the bush.
But the police force does have several ATVs throughout the
province in addition to three SAVE (Snowmobile ATV Vessel
Enforcement) teams. If there is any resistance from local
police to enforce the regulations, he encourages the public
to contact him at OPP headquarters in Orillia.
ATV owners, including trespass and noise disturbance, can
be laid after-the-fact, if a member of the public obtains
the licence number. If the driver is identified they can
be charged as well. He says it's often children creating
the trouble and once police make the parents aware, it usually
solves the problem.
As machine designs
improve, and trail systems emerge, Broderick sees ATVs gaining
popularity with women as a "quality time" family
activity. Already ATV Ontario has five trails of 50 to 60
kilometres leading outward from Elliott Lake. Mattawa and
the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance have a number of railway
beds for permitted ATV use.
With ATV sales expected
to rise, the issue is not going to go away. The best thing
is to manage their impact for us and future generations,
says Earthroots activist Matlow.
not bad people," he stresses. "But other recreational
users have the right to have fun, as well as peace and quiet,
and a safe place to enjoy nature."
Highlights of ONTARIO REGULATION 316/03
made under the HIGHWAY TRAFFIC ACT
Speed is restricted
to 20 kmh on roads posted 50 kmh, and a maximum
of 50 kmh on roads posted at more than 50 kmh.
Individual municipalities must pass bylaws
before ATVs can use township roads. Time of day
or year, and other restrictions can be specified.
Not allowed on highways 400, 401, 402, 403,
404, 405, 407, 409, 410, 416, 417 and 427.
Drivers require a valid Class A, B, C, D,
E, F, G, G2, M or M2 driver's licence issued under
the Act, unless he or she is exempt.
ATV operator must wear a helmet that complies
with section 19 of the Off-Road Vehicles Act.
On roads where the maximum speed is 50 kmph,
an ATV cannot be driven faster than 20 kmph. If
the posted speed limit is greater than 50 kmph,
then ATV speeds up to 50 kmph are allowed.
The off-road vehicle cannot discharge a contaminant
or cause or permit the discharge of a contaminant
into the natural environment that may have an adverse
effect on the environment or impair the quality
of any waters; or contravene any conditions, restrictions
and prohibitions imposed by any legislation and
related regulations enacted to protect the environment.
The off-road vehicle is not allowed to be
a safety risk to anyone or harm or cause material
discomfort to any person from dust, emissions or
or cause harm, injury or damage, either directly
or indirectly, to any property, flora or fauna;
or alteration, disruption or destruction to
the natural environment, including erosion damage
or degradation of the right of way.
The off-road vehicle cannot be driven in
or through a river, stream or other watercourse
on a highway if doing so would or would be likely
to alter, disrupt or destroy any fish habitat.
The off-road vehicle shall be driven on the
shoulder of the highway in the same direction as
the traffic using the same side of the highway.
The off-road vehicle shall be allowed on
the roadway in the same direction as traffic using
the same side of the highway if there is no shoulder;
or the shoulder of the highway is obstructed and
cannot be used.