Speed limit needed for travelling on frozen waterways, petitioner says

The cousin of a woman killed in a snowmobile accident this month is asking for changes to the law.
A Facebook movement is asking the province to make changes to the snowmobile law when it comes to ontario waterways. (istock)
Louise DeCaen would like to see speed limits for snowmobiles modified to include frozen waterways. She's created a petition for that to happen following the death of her cousin after being hit by a snowmobile near an ice fishing hut.

The cousin of a woman killed in a snowmobile accident this month is asking for changes to the law.

Julie Piotrowski died after being hit by a snowmobile while she was standing near an ice fishing hut in the Alban area.

Piotrowski's cousin Louise DeCaen is asking the provincial government to create a law under the Motorized Snow Vehicle Act that will enforce a speed limit when it comes to travelling on frozen waterways.

DeCaen told CBC News she's surprised a law like this hasn't been put in place already.

"We have laws and guidelines for everything nowadays," she said.

"It's just hard to believe that nothing has been put in place — especially with the amount of lives that we lose every season, every year."

DeCaen is calling for a maximum speed of 80 kilometres per hour for snowmobiles travelling on frozen waterways.

She said she also wants a speed limit of 20 km/hr when a snowmobile is within 50 feet of a person, ice hut or other vehicle.

She has started a petition asking for this change, and says it will be available soon on this Facebook page.

"My goal is not to discourage the snowmobile or the ice fishing sport. It's a huge industry for northern Ontario," she said.

"I want people to realize that it's the law that needs to be in place so that no more lives [will] be lost."

Consistent, province-wide enforcement 'difficult'

A spokesperson with Ontario's Ministry of Transportation told CBC News it's not considering any speed-limit related changes to the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act at this time, but "we're always looking for ways to improve snowmobile safety for all riders."

In an email statement, Bob Nichols said the act currently sets a speed limit of 20km/h on highways with a posted speed limit of 50km or less, in public parks or on exhibition grounds. For any other highway or on a prescribed trail, the MSVA establishes a speed limit of 50 km/h for snowmobile operators.

MTO is not aware of any portions of trails over frozen waterways.       

"Given the vast size of all the lakes and waterways in Ontario, it is very unlikely that consistent province-wide enforcement could ever be achieved if there were a single province-wide speed limit applicable to all snow vehicles travelling over all frozen water," he said.

"It is also difficult for police to accurately measure the speed at which a snow vehicle might be travelling, and then to stop the vehicle and identify the driver, in the same way that is customary on a highway."

But "irresponsible operators of snowmobiles on frozen lakes may still be held accountable through a careless driving charge" under a section of the act — if it were determined by a court to be applicable to the surface of a particular frozen lake.

"In some circumstances, a charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle may be made out under the Criminal Code," Nichols continued.

According to the ministry, the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act improves snowmobile safety in a number of ways:

  • designates a minimum age for a snowmobile driver
  • imposes driver licensing requirements
  • requires snow vehicle registration
  • mandates the use of helmets
  • requires snow vehicle owners to have a policy of insurance
  • gives police the power to stop snow vehicles for an inspection
  • provides penalties for snowmobile operators who do not follow the law.

"The Highway Traffic Act also provides other driver's licence consequences for any operator of a snow vehicle who is convicted of a Criminal Code offence such as drinking and driving," Nichols said.


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