The politicians should probably don helmets

Over the next 10 months, Yukon politicians will consult with the public about new ATV regulations. This buttering-up period is too long, but probably necessary. New laws are necessary, but probably won't be warmly received by iron-donkey jockeys.

Over the next 10 months, Yukon politicians will consult with the public about new ATV regulations.

This buttering-up period is too long, but probably necessary.

New laws are necessary, but probably won’t be warmly received by iron-donkey jockeys.

These vehicles are powerful and versatile.

And they are cheap enough that they are fast becoming ubiquitous.

So people can roar virtually anywhere they want with their high-powered rifles, precision sights, handheld GPS devices, carbon-filament fishing rods and picnic baskets.

Places that once took a few days to hike into are now reachable in a morning, or less.

Suddenly the territory isn’t such a big, wild place anymore.

This has two profound effects.

First, because these powerful machines are becoming relatively less expensive, more people are using them – they are not just for the red-plaid-and-denim crowd anymore.

The safety rules are currently ambiguous.

There are more people roaring around in the woods. And, because of that, there is going to be conflict. So there have to be rules.

And people are getting injured.

Speaking to the motion to explore ATV regulations, New Democrat Steve Cardiff, who has long championed the cause, noted 99 people had been treated for ATV-related injuries at the hospital between June 2004 and May 2006.

One person died, one suffered a broken neck. There were scalp and facial injuries, broken bones … a lot of pain and suffering.

It’s only going to get worse.

Currently, ATV users don’t have to wear helmets. That’s ridiculous - even bike riders are compelled, by law, to wear helmets.

The other profound effect is on wildlife.

As noted, people straddling these machines are given free reign to move anywhere in the territory.

Because of this, the territory’s wildlife has no refuge from people. And its plants and stream beds are being mulched and worn away by the thick-wheeled machines.

It’s not a new issue. There have been concerns raised about their use in the Carcross Desert, Pilot Mountain and their effects on moose and caribou populations in the Southern Lakes region.

There are no restrictions on use. It’s beyond time the territory started addressing these issues.

BC recently passed such legislation.

Now, ATVs have to be registered and licenced at sale.

Because of soaring injury rates, all riders in the province must wear helmets.

There are new muffler rules to cut noise, and spark-arresting rules to prevent forest fires.

Children have to be supervised, and are restricted to size-appropriate vehicles. (This would be a welcome rule for anyone who has watched yahoo children roar around Kusawa Lake campground on machines that are far too large for their small bodies.)

And riders are permitted to cross roads only at designated spots.

They are simple rules. They make sense.

And they form a good foundation for the Yukon discussion.

This isn’t rocket science and it isn’t cutting edge.

It is being done in jurisdictions across the country.

Cardiff has pushed for such rules for a couple of years now, and the government now seems willing to tackle the issue. That’s the good news.

But a 10-month roadshow seems unnecessarily long for something so simple and commonsensical. Especially when there are good regulatory examples in BC, and elsewhere.

However, the public often balks at helmets and restrictions on places they once roared around in without thought.

“A lot of people I know don’t like to wear helmets,” said MLA John Edzerza, nicely summarizing the problem politicians face.

And so, we’re curious to see how effective this all-party travelling roadshow will be at buttering up the public. See related stories pages 6 and 70.(Richard Mostyn)

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