All-terrain vehicles: Fun, popular and inherently risky

All-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes have become almost synonymous with cottage life, and are often used on farms and in the exploration of wooded areas. They are also being used more frequently to navigate back-country trails, and the popularity of the machines has increased during the pandemic, according to industry watchers.

A national survey by Parachute and Ipsos in 2021 found that almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of Canadians say they have ridden an ATV at least once and 15 per cent report riding frequently.

Like any recreational vehicle, there’s a certain amount of skill and strength needed to pilot these powerful machines. And just as with the operation of any vehicle, there are factors that a driver can’t control, highlighting the inherent risk of ATV accidents.

Canada experiences about 100 ATV-related deaths every year. Several have been reported in Ontario so far this summer, both on roads and trails. Many ATV accidents have been caused by rollovers or when the machine flips and ejects its occupants.

Insurance to mitigate risk

When there are risks in the operation of recreational vehicles, insurance is a big consideration, particularly since insurance is required by law under most circumstances under Ontario’s Off-Road Vehicles Act. Failing to have insurance can attract a fine of $5,000. A crash resulting in an injury can also result in a lawsuit.

Insurance is required not just on roads but on public trails and property owned by others as well.

One of the exceptions to the requirement for insurance is when an ATV or dirt bike owner rides on their own property. But there are so many circumstances that could result in the operator going off their own property, even crossing the road to get to another property they own, that the safer approach is simply to have an insurance policy in place.

Given that Murphy’s Law suggests it’s during just that one moment — while crossing the road — that something will happen, insurance becomes the best default in every situation.

No insurance, no benefits

Another important aspect to consider is that injury can occur anytime while riding a recreational vehicle, even on one’s own property. Without insurance, there is no access to accident benefit and ATV insurance claims that are typically available to people who are injured in car crashes.

Ontario’s no-fault accident regime allows anyone who has suffered injuries as the result of a crash involving a recreational vehicle to receive treatment and therapy, much like in a car accident — but only if there is insurance.

If you collide with a pedestrian while crossing the road and that person sustains serious injuries, there is a good chance they bring a lawsuit, seeking compensation for losses and medical coverage.

Narrow exceptions to the rule

Another exception to the insurance requirement for off-road vehicles is when they’re being driven on a closed course or competition sponsored by a motorcycle association. But even in a racing situation, the overarching recommendation is to have insurance. There may well be a situation where it becomes necessary to ride the machine off the course or even on a roadway where insurance is a requirement.

The exceptions to the insurance requirement are so narrow that a recreational vehicle owner who doesn’t get insurance must adhere strictly to the rules that prohibit the machine’s use on the roads or other property. And that can be, in many circumstances, difficult to maintain.

Prioritize safety

As with operating any type of vehicle, safety is always the priority. Equipment such as helmets, shields and proper footwear will go a long way to preventing injury should an ATV accident occur.

And if there’s even a remote chance that you will take your ATV off your property, purchase insurance. An ounce of prevention is well worth a pound of cure.

If you have been injured in an ATV accident and would like to speak to a personal injury lawyer in Oakville about your situation, contact us at Edwards Pollard LLP and we would be happy to assist.