The Yukon is the only Canadian jurisdiction without all-terrain vehicle safety legislation.
Dr. Brendan Hanley hopes to change that.
“The thing about ATVs is that they are relatively recent on the scene,” the territory’s newly appointed medical health officer said on Tuesday.
“The legislation has not caught up yet.”
Snowmobile safety legislation isn’t much better, said Hanley.
“There is legislation, but it’s very limited and it’s incorporated into the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act.”
It states no person shall operate a snowmobile without a safety helmet.
It also prohibits youngsters under the age of 16 from driving them.
“This is the only piece of legislation addressing snowmobile safety,” said Hanley.
“Snowmobile safety is so much more than just putting a helmet on — that’s important, but it’s not enough.
In a two-year period, 104 snowmobilers came to the Whitehorse General Hospital with injuries.
Three of the injured were less than three years old.
Most injuries involved broken bones, but there were some serious injuries.
Two people had major head injuries; one died in the emergency department.
“Where it was recorded, 21 out of 26 people were wearing helmets,” said Hanley.
“So we can conclude that most snowmobilers do wear helmets.”
ATVs are a different story.
In the same two-year period, 99 people have been admitted to Whitehorse General Hospital with ATV related injuries.
Of the 51 patients asked, almost half were not wearing helmets.
Five had serious head injuries.
One died. Another had a broken neck.
“It suggests that ATV riders are using helmets far less,” said Hanley.
Helmets are required for snowmobiles, but not for ATVs.
Does legislation make a difference?
“Possibly, but we also know that there’s almost no enforcement of the helmet laws for snowmobiles.”
The reckless use of ATVs may be due to the lack of a social culture around the relatively new vehicles, said Hanley.
Snowmobiles have been around for several generations and there are organizations, like the Klondike Snowmobile Association, to promote safety.
Two weeks ago, the snowmobile association joined other stakeholders at the ATV/Snowmachine Safety Forum, organized by Safe Communities Whitehorse.
Hanley served as forum chair.
“I was really surprised at how much consensus there was that something needs to be done,” he said.
“One of the big areas is definitely legislation.”
Without legislation, it is very difficult to promote safety, said retailers at the meeting.
If retailers suggest a customer purchase a helmet along with an ATV, it is perceived as a money grab.
If it’s not required by law, many riders think they don’t need a helmet.
“Legislation is not just about chasing down people that aren’t wearing helmets,” said Hanley.
“It’s about having a framework so that you can incorporate other things such as training.”
Training could be required to operate ATVs and snowmobiles.
Safe Communities Whitehorse wants to find ways to integrate safety education into the schools and rural communities.
The bison hunt would be a perfect opportunity to teach students vehicle safety, said Hanley.
An age limit could also be implemented, or restricting the size and power of vehicles that young people can ride.
It’s like safety belts for cars, said Hanley.
It may take campaigning and lobbying of the government, but over time helmets and safe ATV and snowmobile use should become part of the Yukon’s culture.