Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. has higher-than-average rates of youth injuries on ATVs and snowmobiles

ATVs and snowmobiles are becoming increasingly popular, and some more modern recreational vehicles aren't covered under current legislation.

Safety coalition asking for increased public education and tougher provincial laws

An average side-by-side ATV is about the same size as a small pickup truck, and weighs more than a thousand pounds. The vehicles aren't covered under current ATV legislation, which was last updated in 2005. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador has one of Canada's highest rates of hospitalization for children and youth using ATVs and snowmobiles, and a coalition of safety groups is calling for legislative changes to reduce injuries.

"The evidence is clear — ATVs and snowmobiles are a safety issue in the country and especially in the province of Newfoundland Labrador," the N.L. Injury Prevention Coalition, the N.L. Public Health Association and Safety N.L. said in a joint position paper released this month.

That evidence shows that children and youth in the province are injured at rates well above the averages both nationally and in Atlantic Canada specifically.

"In our province, for ATV injuries, we had the third-highest hospitalizations with 13.6 hospitalizations per 100,000," Janice White, chair of the offroad safety group Newfoundland and Labrador Injury Prevention Coalition, told the St. John's Morning Show Thursday.

"For snowmobiles, we have the second highest in the whole country, with 7.6 of a rate per 100,000."

That national rate for ATV-related injuries for minors is 6.8 per 100,000 and the rate for Atlantic Canada is 9.6 per 100,000. For snowmobiles, the Canadian rate is 1.1 per 100,000 for ATVs and 2.0 per 100,000 for snowmobiles.

Those rates include only injuries that required hospitalization in youth, and do not include either injuries that did not require hospitalization or those that resulted in fatalities at the accident scene.

A high human and financial cost

The most recent data on those injuries comes from the Atlantic Canada Child and Youth Unintentional Injury Hospitalizations: 10 Years in Review report from the Atlantic Collaborative on Injury Prevention, and covers the years of 2004 to 2013.

In many parts of the province, ATVs and snowmobiles are used for work and transportation as well as for recreation. (John Gaudi/CBC)

The injuries come with direct and indirect financial costs as well as a human one, said White.

"In 2010, in that one year alone, ATV and snowmobile-related injuries cost our province $12 million."

​According to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report, the number of ATV-related injuries is growing faster than for any other major type of wheel or water-based injury.

Legislation last updated in 2005

Reducing the number of injuries requires both public education and changes to existing legislation, said White.

The Motorized Snow Vehicles and All-Terrain Vehicles Act was last amended by Service NL in May 2005, with changes that applied to ATVs.

Since that time there are more recreational vehicles available on the market, the paper said, and some of those vehicles aren't covered by the existing legislation. For example, side-by-sides don't fit the description of what qualifies as an ATV and therefore don't fit under the legislation. Neither do youth ATVs.

"They're just becoming more common now, so the legislation is a little bit outdated with regards to that," she said.

As well, snowmobiles and ATVs have become larger, heavier and faster in the time since the laws were last amended, the position paper said.

"What we're looking for is an update with the snowmobile legislation to kind of mirror the ATV piece," said White.

The organizations are asking for a minimum operator age of 16 instead of the current 13, and that mandatory helmet use  be extended to cover snowmobiles and side-by-sides.

The groups have not heard from the provincial government since the paper's release, she said, but she has heard that Service N.L. may look into mandatory helmet use for snowmobiles.

The chair of the group is trying to get a meeting with the province to discuss the recommendations.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show