In a perfect world we would have no need for laws or regulations, because everyone would carry on with consideration for the safety and property of others.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in our world – a place where people do stupid things.
That’s worth keeping in mind during the debate over whether Yukon’s offroad vehicles should require registration, insurance and licensing.
Several years ago, my brother was carefully nosing his car out of a Whitehorse driveway with poor visibility. He stopped to ensure that no pedestrians were coming and then proceeded towards the street.
As he was doing so a kid on his dad’s snowmobile went speeding down this residential street, riding on the sidewalk and plowed into my brother’s car causing significant damage to his bumper. My now wife, who was in the passenger seat at the time, was lucky that my brother had been driving so slowly towards the street or her door could have been the point of impact.
The kid took off but the collision had damaged his sled and it broke down several blocks away. We were able to track down his father who (to his credit) took responsibility for the situation. He paid the cost of repairing my brother’s vehicle and even lent my brother his own vehicle while his car was being repaired.
Our family was lucky that day. Thankfully the only damage was to the vehicle (which can easily be repaired) and not to its occupants (who cannot). Thankfully the snowmobile – which had no plates – broke down allowing the rider to be identified. And thankfully the boy had a father who owned up to his obligations.
Things could have much worse.
I have practiced some personal injury law during my career – representing both plaintiffs and defendants and I have seen the tremendous financial and personal toll that accidents can cause. If you are lucky the only damage is to the vehicle.
But injured parties are often unable to work for extended periods of time and in some cases become permanently disabled. Compounding the problems created by lost incomes, they are often stuck with new expenses ranging from the cost of drugs to the need to pay housecleaners to take over the household tasks that the injured person can no longer do. And then there is the frustration and depression of coping with the pain and suffering which no amount of money can truly fix.
It is because of these experiences that I have very little sympathy for those opposed to proposed new regulations pertaining to the registration, insuring and driver licensing of offroad vehicles. (The question of whether offroad vehicles should stay on “trails only” and away from sensitive areas are beyond the scope of this column.)
Some offroad vehicles users have been defensive about the proposal. They see them as an attack on their way of life, and an unwarranted infringement on their rights. They feel they are being “punished” because of a “few bad apples.” I disagree.
The requirement of licensing, registering and insuring offroad vehicles in the Yukon is long overdue. Snowmobiles have been subject to these requirements (which unfortunately have been widely ignored) for a long time and expanding them to cover other offroad vehicles just makes sense.
The Yukon has for too long been the Wild West when it comes to the use of offroad vehicles. I recall, as a child, friends whose parents allowed them too much freedom at far too young an age to rip around on machines that were too powerful for them and which they didn’t know how to use safely. Reckless behaviour inevitably ensued.
With the greatest of respect to those who do use offroad vehicles responsibly – and there are many – the problem is hardly limited to a “few bad apples,” either. I suspect most Yukoners can recount instances where they have witnessed reckless behaviour – offroad vehicles being driven at excessive speeds down city streets and shared pathways.
It is certainly true, as some critics have noted, that these requirements will be difficult to enforce. What happened to my brother’s car happened at a time when we already had laws in place regarding snowmobiles.
But what laws aren’t difficult to enforce in our vast, sparsely populated territory? How often will you get a speeding ticket on the Canol Road? How many people get away with illegal hunting practices because conservation officers simply can’t be in all places at all times?
It still makes sense to have the laws in place so there can be accountability in those instances when people do get caught. Otherwise there is nothing that can be done.
Unfortunately the use of offroad vehicles is not a purely private, personal activity, where we can all “live and let live,” so it makes sense to have laws that strike an appropriate balance to deal with the “bad apples” as they appear.
Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.