The number of injuries and deaths related to all-terrain vehicles will continue to rise unless the Alberta government enacts safety laws, according to a major study out of the University of Calgary.
"We have had very good success with drunk-driving legislation, and seatbelt legislation and helmet use," said Dr. Richard Buckley, U of C orthopaedic surgeon and researcher, one of the study’s authors.
"We still have some areas such as ATVs where I feel we have not enough legislation to help people use these very dangerous vehicles safely."
So far this ATV season, eight people have been killed in Alberta and dozens more injured. Yet Alberta is one of the few provinces that does not mandate helmets for ATV riders and has no minimum age for riders.
Researchers conducted the first comprehensive study of the physical and monetary cost of ATV accidents to give lawmakers in Alberta with a clear picture of of ATV injuries and death, and the cost to the healthcare system.
The study analyzed 10 years worth of data from hospitals across the province. In that 10-year span, there were 459 serious trauma cases, including such injuries as broken spines, broken necks and seriou
'Every time we used to go out recreationally riding, one of us would always get an injury.' —Laura Munroe, ATV safety instructor
s head injuries. There were 79 deaths. The estimated cost to the healthcare system was about $6.5 million dollars.
However, those figures do not include such injuries as smashed faces – a common injury among ATV riders – or broken limbs or cuts, which are also common.
Injuries common among riders
The study showed the majority of those injured or killed were men 18 to 20 years old. Most weren't wearing helmets and about 45 per cent had been drinking.
Those statistics reflect the real-life observations of Laura Munroe of Barrhead, an experienced ATV rider who was recently certified as an ATV safety instructor.
"Every time we used to go out recreationally riding, one of us would always get an injury. One of my friends had two broken wrists from one injury. Another one had a laceration in the hand and needed stitches. My husband had an accident where he actually broke his helmet," Munroe said during a break in her certification training.
"Every time I am out there I see an accident, and especially if you go out on a weekend, like May long weekend, you see even more accidents. Everybody is drinking and riding their quads, or their ATVS, or bikes."
The study also showed many injuries are caused by the lack of familiarity by ATV operators with the area in which they are riding.
Kyle Cushing of Fort McMurray is now in the University of Alberta hospital awaiting surgery to fix three vertebrae after an ATV accident, which he said he could not have avoided. Cushing was riding uphill on a trail and as he crested the hill, he suddenly saw a deep trench had been dug across the trail for a pipeline.
Cushing gunned his machine so he wouldn’t land on his front wheels and flip end-over-end. He managed to land on his rear wheels, but the suspension on his machine bottomed out.
"My back took the rest of it, and that point I knew I was really hurt bad," Cushing said.
He made it back to his truck, where a bike rider helped him until his friends returned. The bike rider then went looking for his riding partner. He found him in the same trench where Cushing had crashed. He also had crashed and had broken his arm. Cushing said he will never ride an ATV again.
"This is it for me," Cushing said in an interview from his hospital bed, his wife Stephanie Cameron at his side. "I am lucky now that after surgery, that I am going to be able to walk again. So I'll never take a chance to do it.
"My youngster's first birthday was today so I missed his birthday because I'm injured."
Alberta leads country in ATV sales
The study found Alberta leads the country in ATV sales, and use, with a yearly increase in sales of 50 per cent over the past eight years. Alberta now accounts for a quarter of all ATV sales in Canada. At one southern Alberta hospital alone, the study found that increase in ATV sales and use translated into a three-fold increase in traumatic injuries since 2001.
Back in 2008, the government promised a new law that would make helmets mandatory. But it was never tabled in the legislature. In 2009, a Transportation department spokesman said the legislation was still being drafted, but he could not give any timetable for when it might be brought forward again.
George Billings, chief instructor with the Alberta Safety Council, said his organization has been lobbying for a helmet law for years.
"We’re one of the few provinces that does not have one," he said. "It will protect people because if they can’t protect themselves, then somebody has to. I’m not necessarily someone who believes in legislation for everything, but we have to do something to keep people safe."
The council is also pushing a minimum age of 16 for ATV riders, unless they are supervised by an adult.
Parker Hogan, spokesman for Transportation Minister Ric McIver, said there are no plans to introduce helmet legislation.