Nfld. & Labrador·CBC Investigates

N.L.'s fatality rate in ATV, snowmobile accidents tops Atlantic region, CBC probe finds

CBC News has combined hundreds of police reports, news articles and obituaries to build a computerized list of deaths and the factors that contributed to them.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the province where you’re most likely to die riding on a snowmobile or ATV

Ryan Compton, who died in 2017, loved spending time outdoors with his daughter, Karley. (Submitted by Katie Maye)

Katie Maye says her partner, Ryan Compton, had a lifelong love for the woods. It was a love he was happy to instill in his four-year-old daughter, too. 

"Take her out fishing, berry picking, anything to do outside he'd take her. … So him and Karley were always gone," Maye said.

Maye said her partner was especially proud of his Mach Z 1000 snowmobile.

But Compton lost his life on that machine, one of more than 178 Atlantic Canadians since 2012 who have died in ATV or snowmobile accidents.

Literally down the road

On the night he died, March 10, 2017, Compton was visiting a friend in Lewisporte.

Maye said her partner had a few drinks with his friend that night, and texted at 11 p.m. to say he'd be right home.

"It was literally down the road," Maye said. "I can walk there myself now and be there in five minutes."

Compton had just returned home from visiting a friend down the road the night he died. (Submitted by Katie Maye)

Compton made it home safely. But it was partly his pride in his machine that led to his death.

He liked to park it on top of the snowbank in front of his house.

"When he went to park it maybe he gave it too much gas and the [snowmobile] went on its side." Maye said.

Ryan Compton was 32 when he died. (Submitted by Katie Maye)

"He fell with the [snowmobile] and when he landed on the other side it was on the road, on the concrete. He hit the back of his head."

Compton wasn't wearing a helmet.

Maye said a report from the medical examiner showed her parnter died of blunt-force trauma to the back of his head.

Karley had not yet had her fifth birthday.

Of the 178 victims, 154 of them, like Ryan Compton, were men. Sixteen were women. The information in the other eight cases is unclear.

Thirteen children and teenagers died. But the death count spikes after age 20, and then slowly rises to a peak between ages 40 and 60.

Ryan Compton was 32 when he died.

Contributing choices

The CBC Investigation found several factors strongly associated with fatal ATV and snowmobile crashes.

In 21 per cent of cases, victims, like Compton, weren't wearing helmets.

Maye says Compton did wear a helmet when he was riding on trails, but not close to home.

Karley hadn't turned five when her father died. (Submitted by Katie Maye)

"I'd have it on a bench for him to wear, but you know how stubborn men are. If it was in town somewhere he wouldn't wear it," Maye said.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Atlantic Canada where wearing a helmet on a snowmobile is optional.

"I think that's totally wrong," said Dr. Rob Green, medical director at Trauma Nova Scotia.

"I would strongly encourage Newfoundland to re-evaluate their helmet laws for snowmobiles.  A helmet's the only thing that's going to protect you," he said.

CBC News found that Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest death rate in snowmobile accidents in the region, more than double the regional average, and twice that of New Brunswick.

That is stupid to me. That should be changed, definitely.- Katie Maye

"I would suspect that the high number of relative deaths on snowmobiles in Newfoundland would be related to the non-use of helmets. If Newfoundland does not mandate helmet use on snowmobiles, they should take a close look at that. It likely would save people's lives," Green said.

Maye was shocked to hear about her province's helmet laws for snowmobiles.

"That is wrong to me," said Maye. "That is stupid to me. That should be changed, definitely."

Sherry Gamblin-Walsh, minister of Service NL, was not available for an interview about recreational vehicle safety.

Maye says she still struggles with what-if scenarios.

"It goes through your head. What if this happened, what if this happened. … It's hard. It's very hard," she said.

Compton's helmet was in the porch beside where Maye stood while police told her he had died.

Said Maye: "It was his fault for not wearing his helmet, but what if I pushed him to wear it more?"

Compton was drinking the night he died on his snowmobile.

CBC News found that drug or alcohol intoxication is a frequent factor in ATV and snowmobile deaths.

Alcohol and drugs were suspected or confirmed in 44 per cent of fatalities across the region.

New Brunswick was the province with the highest intoxication rate with nearly 59 per cent of deaths involving alcohol.

Newfoundland's intoxication rate was well below this at 21 per cent. 

CBC News believes this is due to differences in how police statistics were collected and released under freedom of information requests.

The majority of accidents happen on weekends and holidays, and after 6 p.m.

Different provinces, different patterns

Newfoundland and Labrador saw 61 deaths on ATVs and snowmobiles. There were 64 deaths in New Brunswick.

But because Newfoundland and Labrador's population is roughly 30 per cent smaller, the province's death rate there since 2012 was 11.5 people per 100,000 population.

That's the highest in the region, and more than double Nova Scotia's rate, where 47 people died.

Prince Edward Island saw six deaths in that time, four on ATVs and two on snowmobiles.

Across the region, ATV deaths outnumber those on snowmobiles by nearly two to one.

There were 113 deaths on ATVs to 62 on snowmobiles. In three accidents, CBC couldn't determine what kind of vehicle was involved.

There was a wide variation in these numbers province to province.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, 61 deaths were nearly evenly split between ATVs and snowmobiles. In Nova Scotia, only seven out of 47 deaths involved snowmobiles.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story contained three errors: the spelling of Karley's name, the age of Compton when he died, and the relationship between Compton and Maye as husband and wife. These have been corrected.
    Nov 05, 2018 8:35 PM NT

With files from Alyssa Gould; additional research by Cathy Ross and Diana Redegeld