City to tune up ATV rules

Whitehorse is revamping the rules that govern all-terrain vehicle use. "Most people act responsibly," said Mayor Bev Buckway. "But we've seen some disturbing trends over the past few years.

Whitehorse is revamping the rules that govern all-terrain vehicle use.

“Most people act responsibly,” said Mayor Bev Buckway. “But we’ve seen some disturbing trends over the past few years.”

The bulk of complaints involve youth roaring around on ATVs near neighbourhoods.

A solution touted by the city is the creation of more out-and-away trails, to provide motorized vehicles access to the hinterland.

Riverdale, in particular, lacks any designated motorized trail – yet that doesn’t prevent ATVs from zooming around Grey Mountain and the Hidden Lakes.

Some hikers and bikers also say ATVs are causing environmental damage, leaving ugly ruts where they roam. It doesn’t help that there’s much confusion over which trails permit motorized vehicles.

Another problem with the standing rules is they don’t allow for ATVs to be driven on roads, even if the vehicles are being taken to the nearest trailhead.

All-terrain vehicles, under the law, include everything from dirtbikes to quads to eight-wheeled Argos.

Currently, all ATV riders within city limits are expected to have a driver’s licence, insurance and a helmet. But this is based on a contorted interpretation of territorial law, which calls for such requirements on highways.

Trails, strangely enough, are defined as highways under the Motor Vehicles Act. But only Whitehorse enforces this part of the law.

New ATV bylaws will have their own provisions, to make everything more clear, said Buckway.

The city aims to have a new bylaw in place by June of 2012.

The steps taken to get there will be similar to what was done to develop the city’s new snowmobile bylaws – a draft of which is expected to be made public in several weeks.

The city’s struck a task force to lead the review. It includes members from community associations, ATV enthusiasts, the Yukon Department of Environment and the Ta’an Kwach’an and Kwanlin Dun First Nations.

Notably missing is the Trails Only Yukon Association, which is calling for territorial rules to keep the vehicles off fragile alpine meadows and other sensitive environments.

It chose not to participate, as the organization is focused on protecting hinterland – not areas within city limits.

Also, in several weeks the city plans to begin conducting a survey, to suss out where residents stand on ATV regulation issues. Later, the city will hold a public open house to display some of the options.

While the draft bylaw will be developed by city staff, the final rules will be decided by mayor and council.

Whitehorse has more than 700 kilometres of trail. Of that, approximately 400 kilometres is considered multi-use, meaning motorized vehicles are allowed on it, said Doug Hnatiuk, projects co-ordinator for the city’s parks department.

Since 2007, when city council approved its trail plan, the city has tried to crack down on “rogue” trail builders, said Hnatiuk.

Enforcement of ATV rules is a tall task. The city has one bylaw officer whose job is to patrol trails part of the week.

Rather than dole out tickets, bylaw prefers to explain the rules to riders.

“The key is not enforcement,” said bylaw chief Dave Pruden. “The key is education.”

Contact John Thompson at

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