Whitehorse council will soon decide on a new snowmobile bylaw to replace one passed in 1975.
Given the possibility it might be another 36 years before the bylaw is thoroughly reviewed again, it would be wise for citizens to note what the city plans to include in the new document.
In the existing bylaw snowmobiles are referred to as “motor toboggans.” This designation must be changed to reflect what they really are Ã motorized vehicles.
At present, snowmobiles are permitted to operate in the city’s so-called protected areas. Other motor vehicles are not. This seems to suggest snowmobiles are less environmentally damaging than other ORVs, such as ATVs, a rather controversial conclusion.
Recognizing snowmobiles are motor vehicles, and therefore as potentially damaging as other ORVs, would necessitate their exclusion from protected areas of the city. This may require a change to the protected-area bylaw.
There does not appear to be any reference in bylaw 370 to the necessity of wearing a helmet. Section 212 of the territorial Motor Vehicles Act states “all persons operating a snowmobile (including passengers) must wear a safety helmet securely attached to their head.” Therefore, there should not be any disagreement with regard to the addition of this requirement to the bylaw since it is already a territorial necessity.
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, “head injuries (among snowmobilers) remain the leading cause of mortality and serious morbidity, arising largely when snowmobilers collide, fall or overturn during operation.”
At present, general observation suggests most snowmobilers do use helmets, so its inclusion in the bylaw should present little opposition.
Under the existing bylaw there are provisions that allow for the towing of such things as sleighs, trailers or other objects, but only if such items are “attached to the motor toboggan by a rigid tow bar.” The bylaw should be amended to prohibit the towing of people, an activity which could well result in serious injury.
The Canadian Paediatric Society supports such a restriction and suggests it is often children who have “been injured while being towed by snowmobiles in a variety of conveyances.”
Bylaw 370 states “no motor toboggan shall within the city carry more than three (3) persons including the driver or operator of same.”
This seems to be a rather large number.
The city should check with manufacturers to determine what they recommend with regard to the number of passengers that can be safely carried on these motor vehicles. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends only one passenger be carried on a snowmobile.
Bylaw 370 makes reference to “passengers,” but does not include any age limitations with regard to those passengers. The Canadian Paediatric Society suggests “children younger than six years of age do not have the strength or stamina to be transported safely as passengers on snowmobiles.” Safe Kids Canada also supports this view. Any new snowmobile bylaw should contain an age restriction with regard to passengers.
Under the current territorial Motor Vehicles Act, snowmobile operators have to have a driver’s licence (therefore, be 16), have to be insured, have to display a licence plate, have to wear a helmet, and must register their vehicles if they are operating their ORVs on any Yukon highway as defined under the act. A trail (among many other things) is considered a highway. So, the city must follow existing territorial legislation and require operators to be insured, display a licence plate, wear a helmet, register their vehicle and possess a driver’s licence.
It is about time that the city and the Yukon government educate the public with regard to the current legislation affecting snowmobiles and other ORVs.
As of December 31, there were only 418 registered snowmobiles in the Yukon. It is quite possible that there are now more machines than the estimated 12,000 present in the territory in 2000. Both governments have a duty to ensure snowmobile operators know what their legal and liability risks could be if they do not follow present legislation with regard to the Motor Vehicles Act.
Responsible organizations support legislation/bylaws that ensure no one under 16 operates a snowmobile. Supporters include the following: Canadian Paediatric Society, Canadian Institute for Health Information, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Safe Kids Canada.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) “snowmobile accidents account for the majority of serious winter sport injuries Ã far outdistancing hockey, skiing and snowboarding Ã‰ (and that) people under (the age of) 20 suffered the most severe injuries.”
In light of current territorial legislation, the city has little choice but to ban the use of mini-snowmobiles as they would be operated by those not possessing a driver’s licence. As Safe Kids Canada suggests, such vehicles “are still not safe for children’s use.”
It is not the responsibility of city government to provide safety courses for snowmobilers. It could promote such courses where they are offered, but that should be the extent of the city’s involvement. The territorial government should be responsible for providing ORV tests for potential operators. These tests should involve both a driving component and a written component specific to the type of ORV the applicant would be operating. Courses should be designed by the territorial government and either contracted out to private businesses, or run by the government itself.
The courses need to include sections that deal with the impact that ORVs may have on other recreational users and on the environment.
If potential ORV users were made aware of the problems their machines may create for the environment, for other recreational users and even for themselves, they might well put this information to good use when operating their ORVs. As well, sections of the course should deal with community bylaws associated with ORV use.
At present, one must possess a driver’s licence to operate a snowmobile on highways (as defined under the Motor Vehicles Act) within the territory.
However, the idea the possession of a driver’s licence means one can operate a snowmobile or other ORV effectively is somewhat naive. ORV use requires different skill abilities than one obtains from driving a car. Therefore, a separate licence should be required for ORV users. In other words, you would have a licence for driving a car and a licence for driving a particular type of ORV.
If the city continues to allow the use of its trails by snowmobiles and other ORVs, then it must designate trails as being either nonmotorized or motorized. The conflict that presently exists between the two groups of users will only increase if the city continues to allow the creation of multi-use trails on which motorized vehicles are permitted.
In addition, it will continue to result in the displacement of the nonmotorized user. Safety factors alone should make such designation (motorized only/nonmotorized only) essential.
ORVs (including snowmobiles) should not be permitted to operate on trails that run through or beside residential areas or through environmentally sensitive regions. Failure to include such a stipulation in the new bylaw would make an update to the antiquated noise bylaw an absolute necessity.
Of course, if additional officers are not hired to enforce our city’s numerous bylaws then the new snowmobile bylaw will prove to be as ineffective as the existing one.
There are many more issues that need to be addressed with regard to the new bylaw.
Interested citizens should view the city’s website and look under the heading Bylaw Services Snowmobile Report in order to read the written submissions made to the Snowmobile Task Force.