The challenge of promoting safety to ATV riders who feel invincible

Barry Barnet, executive director of the ATV association of Nova Scotia, says some riders feel "bulletproof," and they're the hardest to reach.

N.S. cabinet minister, ATV association to discuss safety education and trail enforcement

A CBC News investigation found there were 178 deaths on ATVs and snowmobiles in Atlantic Canada since 2012. (Shutterstock)

The people most affected by deadly all-terrain vehicle accidents may be the hardest to convince to change their ways, says the association representing ATV riders in Nova Scotia.

To that end, the group plans to meet with the provincial minister of lands and forestry to discuss ways to educate riders about safe, responsible driving after a CBC News investigation counted 178 deaths on ATVs and snowmobiles in Atlantic Canada since 2012.

Of those 178 deaths, 47 occurred in Nova Scotia. And just over half of those 47 deaths involved drug or alcohol impairment.

"I think there's an element of society that thinks they are seven feet tall and bulletproof, they can go anywhere and any time and they're safe all the time," said Barry Barnet, executive director of the ATV Association of Nova Scotia.

"I think those folks are going to be the hardest ones to reach."

ATV education review

The investigation also found that ATV and snowmobile crash victims are overwhelmingly male, with the most deaths occurring between the ages of 40 and 60.

"It's important that we look to education and enforcement. Both aspects will help bring that number [of fatalities] down," said Iain Rankin, minister of lands and forestry for Nova Scotia.

Iain Rankin, Nova Scotia's minister of lands and forestry, says he'll meet with the province's ATV association to discuss safety education and enforcement. (Robert Short)

Rankin's department provides funding for ATV education through the province's off-highway vehicle fund. He said the department will ensure dollars are being spent "in the most effective manner for education."

An education campaign on safe cannabis use will also target ATV and snowmobile users, he said.

Barnet said his association's educational messages focus on helmet use, safety training and sober riding.

A difficult population to reach

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, agreed that reaching the intended audience could be difficult.

"That's a challenging demographic, adult men, for any kind of health messaging," he said. "Whether it's getting them to an appropriate cancer screening or even seeing a doctor around health conditions to other types of healthy behaviours."

However, Barnet is confident messaging will eventually resonate.

He noted that attitudes toward helmet use and alcohol on ATVs have changed dramatically in the past 20 years — evidence that evolution is possible.

"There's a lot of public education. And I think there's some peer pressure," he said. "The combination of those two things and enforcement will help put this issue to rest."

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian