| Sep 21, 2006

Legalese - September 21, 2006

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Legalese - Sept. 21, 2006 ATVs on highways – the rest of the story Susan Irwin, Lawyer Rural Legal Services

Whether or not all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) should be allowed on area roads has certainly been a topic of much discussion since the Ontario government gave municipalities the option of permitting such use in 2003. What doesn’t seem to have drawn as much attention are the rules set down by the province under the Highway Traffic Act that govern the use of ATVs on public roads in municipalities where their use is permitted.


First of all, if you intend to drive an ATV on a public road, it is obviously important to determine whether or not a by-law has been passed to permit this activity in each municipality in which you intend to drive. It should be noted that each municipality may put more restrictive conditions on the use of ATVs than are found in the Highway Traffic Act and, among other things, may reduce speeds, set hours of operation, limit use to only certain roads, and even restrict or prohibit usage at certain times of the year. In addition to this possible municipality-by-municipality confusion, the Act itself prohibits the use of ATVs on parts of certain provincial highways.

Once a driver has determined that an ATV may be used in a municipality, and is aware of any municipally imposed restrictions, there are then further rules of operation prescribed by the Province in Ontario Regulation 316/03 under the Highway Traffic Act. Some rules are fairly obvious in that the general provisions of the Highway Traffic Act will apply where appropriate with “the necessary modifications”. In other words you will be charged with the same offences as if you were driving a car or truck if you step out of line, such as speeding or careless driving. The ATV must have a number plate or permit, be insured, and the driver must be wearing an appropriate helmet.

Unlike snowmobiles, there is no special driver’s licence. The driver must have at least a G-2 or an M-2 licence to be able to operate an ATV on a public road. A beginner’s licence (G-1) or a snowmobile permit will not meet the requirements, effectively keeping younger drivers off the highways until they have moved beyond “beginner” status.

And if you want to take that younger person along as a passenger, the rules seem to frown on doubling up. In fact, the Regulation to the Highway Traffic Act setting out these rules defines an “all-terrain vehicle” as being limited to an off-road vehicle that “is designed to carry a driver only and no passengers” (O. Reg. 316/03 s.1(d)). Later, when setting out which highways or roads may be used by ATVs, the rules state that such usage is permitted when “there is only one driver and no passenger in the all-terrain vehicle at the time” (O. Reg. 316/03, s.4(2)).

The Regulation also deals with safety and technical issues at great length. To qualify for use on public roads, all ATVs much meet certain requirements, including limited weight and width, have low pressure bearing tires and meet certain industry and legislative standards, depending on the year of manufacture. All equipment must be operating properly, without modifications that run afoul of those previously mentioned standards. Brakes are a must, as are lamps and appropriate front, rear and side reflectors. The lamps, white in front and red in the rear, must be lit at all times the ATV is being operated on a highway.

Besides setting basic speed limits of 20 km/h in a 50 km/h zone, and not more than 50 km/h in areas with higher limits, the Regulation lays down rules for passing, signaling, use in construction zones, over-taking and passing, turning, and so forth, that all operators are expected to be familiar with before driving on a road. Be warned - some rules are very different from those for other classes of vehicles, and deal with such matters as environmental damage by ATVs, dust, noise, erosion of the road right of way, and other concerns that aren’t often seen in the Highway Traffic Act.

It is not possible in this column to deal with all aspects of the rules dealing with ATVs on highways, including the special rules for farmers, trappers, and certain classes of workers. ATV owners should be aware however, that once a municipality grants permission for driving on the roads, special rules do exist and they ought to make themselves aware of the rest of the story before heading out down the highway.

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