Helmets will be mandatory for all offroad vehicles in N.L. under proposed new rules
Fines for breaking the new rules range from $100 to $2,500
The government plans to make helmets mandatory for operation of all offroad vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador, including snowmobiles and enclosed side-by-sides.
The new rule is one of a swath of proposed changes to legislation and regulations governing operation of off-road vehicles, a popular pastime in the province.
"Offroad vehicle accidents are not rare. They happen too often in our province," said Service N.L. Minister Sarah Stoodley at a media conference Thursday.
Stoodley said 68 people in Newfoundland and Labrador have died in offroad vehicle accidents since 2014. She said the new rules are intended to help create more of a safety mindset regarding the vehicles.
Anyone under 13 is not permitted to operate an offroad vehicle with an engine size over 125 cc and anyone under 16 must be supervised by a licensed driver 18 or older.
Anyone 16 and younger, anyone registering an offroad vehicle for the first time and anyone who has had their registration cancelled or suspended will now be required to complete operator safety training. Stoodley said the training is being developed.
In addition to wearing a helmet, anyone driving a side-by-side equipped with a seatbelt is required to use the seatbelt.
Trailer attachments must now meet specific safety requirements, and operators are not allowed to tow passengers across highways.
When crossing highways, operators must be able to see 150 metres in both directions. Although offroad vehicles aren't permitted on paved roads, operators are allowed to travel along the shoulder of a highway for up to one kilometre in order to access a trail.
"When in doubt, don't cross the highway," said Stoodley.
Fines for breaking the new rules range from $100 to $2,500. The fines for breaking rules related to highways and helmet use and for subsequent offences will be toward the higher end of the range.
There are some exceptions to the legislation. Helmets are not required for operating off-road vehicles during hunting and trapping activities involving frequent stops, as long as the vehicle doesn't reach speeds above 20 km/h.
Stoodley said the government recognizes the right of the Nunatsiavut government, Inuit communities in Labrador and the band councils of reserves in the province to make their own laws regarding the use of recreational vehicles.
Snowmobiles and ATVs are covered by two separate acts, with no legislation explicitly governing side-by-sides. Stoodley said the new act will be more "streamlined" and include ATVs, snowmobiles and side-by-sides.
"If people don't have helmets I would encourage you to start shopping around."
In an interview with CBC News, Rick Noseworthy, president of the Newfoundland T'Railway council, said the legislation is necessary.
"How do you argue against it when we've had so many deaths?" he asked. "They are preventable, and a helmet goes a long way."
He said helmets don't affect peripheral vision, and those who are concerned about having to wear a bulky helmet in a side-by-side can choose a smaller helmet without a visor.
Noseworthy said there have been fatal accidents involving side-by-sides over the past two years that could have had different outcomes if the occupants had been wearing helmets.
"Helmets work. Helmets save lives."
He also highlighted the new mandatory training requirements and rules for crossing highways as needed changes.
"Just in the last few months, we've had some very serious incidents involving crossing highways," Noseworthy said.
He said abiding by the new rules will be tough for some, he said, but compared the transition to the creation of seatbelt rules in the 1980s.
"Society and the culture has changed," he said. "I'm hoping that's going to be the same way with helmets."