| Aug 28, 2008

Legalese - August 28, 2008

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Legalese - August 28, 2008 Beyond Trail Riding: ATVs on highwaysSusan Irwin, Lawyer/Executive Director, Rural Legal Services

Have you seen someone driving fast, dark (without lights), helmetless, and with seeming disregard for other users of the road? A suicidal bicyclist at twilight? Perhaps, but it could also describe a few of the ATV drivers that I have had the heart-pounding pleasure of “almost” meeting in an up and close manner on the road this summer.

It would seem that there are still some ATV drivers who think they have to make a mad dash along area roads until they can cut off on to a trail. Has nobody told them that they can legally drive on the roads in many of our area municipalities if they would just comply with certain rules and regulations?

The basic rules of operation reflect a common sense approach: turn on your lights when driving so other people can see you; wear an approved helmet; drive at the reduced speed set for ATVs so you can maintain control; drive with only one rider per machine, and follow the rules of the road that apply to all drivers. Signaling for turns is more than just a courtesy!

If you are not sure of the rules, information is available from the OPP, the Ministry of Transportation and from your local ATV club or association. Most ATV drivers on our roads are safe and courteous drivers, and groups of riders out on club events are not a rare or unwelcome sight. But with the potential mix of vehicles on our roads, from transport trucks to snowmobiles and electric bicycles, all users have a responsibility to drive within their skill limits and in accordance with the law.

There are two levels of legislation that govern the use of ATVs on our roads. First of all, a municipality must pass a by-law permitting the use of ATVs on its roads. These by-laws may put restrictive conditions on the use of ATVs and may, among other things, set reduced speeds, restrict hours of operation, limit use to only certain roads, and even restrict or prohibit usage at certain times of the year. A person driving an ATV into a different township cannot assume that the rules governing road usage are the same from municipality to municipality, or even that the use of the ATV on the roads of another municipality is permitted.

Secondly, the use of ATVs on public roads is subject to further rules found in Regulations to Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. Under these regulations, the general provisions of the Highway Traffic Act will apply where appropriate with “the necessary modifications”. In other words, ATV drivers can be charged with the same offences as if they were driving a car or truck, such as speeding or careless driving. All ATVs must have a number plate or permit, be insured, and the driver must be wearing an appropriate helmet and have at least a G-2 or an M-2 license. No passengers are permitted, even – on a strict reading of the regulations – when the ATV is designed to carry one. Maximum speeds, unless further reduced by a municipality, are set at 20 kmh. in a 50 kmh. zone, and not more than 50 kmh. in areas with higher limits. Lights, white in front and red in the rear, must be on at all times when an ATV is on a public road.

The regulations also deal with safety and technical specifications at great length, as well as setting out special rules for passing, signaling, driving in construction zones, over-taking and passing, and so forth. There are also special rules for farmers, trappers, and certain classes of workers. Dust, noise, erosion of the road right-of-way, and environmental damage through careless use of ATVs are also touched upon in the regulations.

All drivers of all classes of vehicles are expected to know the rules that apply to them when they use a public road. And, of course, if we are all to get home safely, showing some respect for other users of the road is essential. As people look for more economical and environmentally friendly forms of transportation, we should all be aware of our obligation to share our public highways with the increasing variety of lawful vehicles.

Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

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