Nfld. & Labrador·CBC Investigates

'One death is one too many': ATV safety messages rolled out before holiday weekend

The RCMP and an ATV safety advocacy group are urging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to be cautious this Victoria Day weekend, to ensure that tragedies of the past don't repeat in the future.

There have been at least 26 ATV, snowmobile incidents in N.L. since November

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland and Rick Noseworthy, the president of the Avalon T'Railway Corporation, said they want people in Newfoundland and Labrador to keep safety top-of-mind going into the holiday weekend. (Jen White/CBC)

The RCMP and an ATV safety advocacy group are urging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to be cautious this Victoria Day weekend, to ensure that tragic situations from the past don't repeat in the future.

"Unfortunately, statistically speaking, we generally tend to see some sort of a tragedy over the May 24 weekend," said Cpl. Jolene Garland.

"We would love nothing better than to come back on Tuesday morning and report that we had a weekend free of tragedy."

Police and the Avalon T'Railway Corporation teamed up for an annual event this week, to raise awareness of off-road vehicle safety, for what many consider the official start of summer.

"This weekend, more than any other weekend, there's going to be more people ... in the country than in the towns," said Rick Noseworthy, the president of Avalon T'Railway.

"If you don't follow the rules, you're at a greater risk ... of prosecution, but also risk of injury and death."

At least 26 incidents since November

Last fall, CBC's Fatal Fun series found that, over a six-year period, more than 178 Atlantic Canadians died in ATV or snowmobile accidents.

That number included 61 deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador, nearly evenly split between ATVs and snowmobiles.

Since then, CBC News has tracked the number of snowmobile and ATV-related incidents across the province.

Over the past six months, there have been at least 26 incidents across the province, with the most occurring in Bay Roberts (four) and Nain (three).

CBC compiled those statistics from news releases sent by the RCMP since November. 

But Garland said that number is likely higher, since not all incidents are noted in press releases.

Helmets not worn in 2 of 3 fatal ATV accidents

Among those incidents since November, there were a total of five fatalities.

Three people have died in ATV accidents. Two of them weren't wearing helmets.

In one of those cases, a 28-year-old St. John's woman lost control while driving around a turn on Horse Chops Road in Cape Broyle in April.

At the time of the crash, RCMP said the driver sustained serious injuries, and an ambulance rushed her to hospital. 

Police have now confirmed that she later died.

Noseworthy said, when heading out on an ATV, it's important to always wear a helmet. (Jen White/CBC)

The RCMP said neither the driver nor the passenger, who survived, were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.

The other was a 33-year-old man, who was also not wearing a helmet when he died in a single ATV rollover collision in February in Benton.

Noseworthy said those statistics are alarming.

"We believe that if they had to have helmets on, they'd be alive today. What could be a minor injury, became a fatality," he said.

"It's not like 30 years ago, when [helmets] weren't comfortable. Right now, the helmets are lighter, they breathe, better field of vision. There is no reason why you shouldn't wear a helmet."

Province was reviewing safety legislation

The RCMP releases also noted that six people — including four children in Nain — have been injured in ATV and snowmobile accidents since November.

Garland told CBC News that it appears the children weren't wearing helmets at the time of the crash, but she said that is not legally required.

In November, Sherry Gambin-Walsh said that the provincial government was looking to increase the minimum age for ATV riders and to make helmets mandatory on snowmobiles. (Katie Breen/CBC)

That's something the provincial government previously said it was working to change.

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

In November, then-Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh said the province was committed to making riding safer.

At the time, she said a full review of the Motorized Snow Vehicle and All-Terrain Vehicles Act and regulations had been in the works for about a year.

"We'll start to work on the legislation for the spring sitting, to get that ready now," Gambin-Walsh said.

But that didn't happen before the May 16 provincial election was called.

It's not clear when, or if, that will happen now.

Others facing impaired, dangerous driving charges

According to the releases, nine people have been charged since last fall for impaired driving while using a snowmobile, and two drivers for operating an ATV while under the influence.

On Wednesday, the RCMP said they stopped a 33-year-old man in Happy Valley-Goose Bay who was speeding on an ATV.

He blew twice the legal limit.

The man's licence was suspended and the ATV was impounded, and he's due to appear in court at a later date.

There were at least 26 incidents reported by RCMP detachments throughout Newfoundland and Labrador over the past six months. The most (four) occurred in Bay Roberts (N), and three in Nain (A). (CBC)

Meanwhile, police told CBC News that they have now confirmed that alcohol played a factor in a snowmobile accident in Barachois Brook in February.

A 35-year-old man was injured, and has since been charged with impaired driving.

Six other off-road drivers are facing different charges, including allegations tied to dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, driving an ATV on a main road, and for doing wheelies.

Parents, youth ticketed

But it's not just adults who are disobeying the rules not to drive on roadways.

CBC News has found that two parents and a youth were also ticketed in three separate incidents, in North River, Catalina, and Dover. Those incidents — which all involved teenaged drivers — all took place last month.

Noseworthy said the Avalon T'Railway Corporation is asking parents to be vigilant about following and enforcing safety rules when it comes to kids and ATVs.

"Don't use your ATV as a babysitter for your kids," he said, noting that, under the legal age, youth don't have the physical ability to properly control such a large piece of equipment.

"Don't let them go unsupervised and also, ride in approved areas. Stay off the roads."

Statistics on par with previous years

Garland said there hasn't been much change in the statistics for the same time period over the past two years.

"Looking at fatalities, with regards to all-terrains or snowmobiles, [they're] exactly the same over the last two years — no increase or decrease," she said.

We're not getting any worse — but we're certainly not getting any better.- Cpl. Jolene Garland

Garland said there has been a slight increase in reported injuries.

"The number of reported offences that we're seeing under the all-terrain and snowmobile act [are in the] same vicinity," she said.

"What that's telling us is that we're not getting any worse — but we're certainly not getting any better."

Garland said safety needs to be top of mind.

"Being careful — drive sober. Don't mix alcohol and drugs with all-terrain or recreational vehicle use," she said.

"Wear that safety gear and minimize your risk... It is pretty simple, but unfortunately, for some reason, it's just not ringing through to people."

'Trying to save one life at a time'

Noseworthy said his group was shocked by the statistics compiled in the Fatal Fun series last fall.

"We knew the numbers [were] high. We ... didn't realize they were that high," he said.

The Avalon T'Railway group has partnered with the RCMP to spread the safety message.

"One accident, one death is one too many," Noseworthy said. 

"Our job is try to prevent as many deaths as possible. So we're working towards that."

That includes visits to 30 schools since January, to speak about ATV safety with roughly 4,000 students.

"We keep plugging away," Noseworthy said, "trying to save one life at a time."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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