Dust hangs in the air at the Nanaimo motocross track as the Boese siblings navigate their all-terrain vehicles across the gravel landscape.
The three siblings are flanked by their parents Cam and Michele as the family enjoys some recreational time.
The Canadian Paediatric Society called for provinces and territories to harmonize off-road legislation, make helmet use and training courses mandatory and restrict riders from carrying passengers. It is currently mandatory in B.C. for ATV operators to wear helmets while on highways and forest roads and in the future the province plans to extend that to include public land.
But the society also wants a national ban on youth under the age of 16 from driving all-terrain vehicles of any size. If that happens, it would mean all three siblings couldn’t ride.
“It would suck because I love riding,” said 12-year-old Jaydon.
Jaydon has been riding ATVs since he was seven. His brother Konnor, 9, has been riding since he was five, and his sister Karlee, 6, has been operating ATVs since she was two.
Their father, Cam, said most of the onus should fall on parents to ensure they are supervising their children on ATVs, providing adequate training and ensuring their children are wearing protective gear.
“It’s the parent’s responsibility to keep them safe,” said Cam.
He said as long as the vehicle is size-appropriate, all the protective gear is worn and youth are supervised, they should be permitted to operate ATVs. He would rather see more standardized safety regulations between the provinces and for the government to adopt similar regulations as Oregon in the U.S.
That state requires hands-on safety training for youth under 15. Operators under the age of 16 must also meet minimum physical size requirements in relation to their vehicle, which includes the ability to reach brakes with hands placed in the normal operating position and that their knee must bend at least 45 degrees when the feet are placed on the vehicle pegs.
Richard Stanwick, president of the Canadian Paediatric Society and a chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said it’s a challenging undertaking for even a mature adult that has the strength to operate the ATVs.
“Many times people that are injured, it is the first time they get on the vehicle and underestimate the skill that is required,” he said. “I personally have seen an eight-year-old die after what seemed to be a really minor [accident].
“He was talking and lucid on admission. He died the next morning from his head injury, which would have been survivable with a helmet.”
Mark Busby, executive director of the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society, said it makes sense for the provinces to align on helmet-use legislation.
“A brain is a brain, whether it is in B.C. or Ontario,” he said. “Helmets save lives and dramatically reduce brain injury.”
Stanwick said the society recognizes that in remote communities all-terrain vehicles are important modes of transportation and more safety education programs may be required in those areas.
However, he said more than 90 per cent of the accidents aren’t from work or transportation accidents but from recreational use.
According to the society, about 447 Canadian children under 15 are hospitalized every year for ATV-related injuries. For youth ages 16-19 there are about 506 admissions a year.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is currently developing and implementing an Off-Road Vehicle Management Framework. The first phase of the project started this January. The ministry is also planning to add restrictions on youth 16 and under, when operating ATVs.
Under the new framework, which hasn’t been rolled out yet, youth will require adult supervision, appropriate-sized vehicles for their age and weight and travel at reduced speed limits.
The ministry is contemplating whether there will be a minimum age restriction to operate the vehicles.
Safety training isn’t currently mandatory; however, the provincial government is examining whether it will be a requirement for youth or adults who supervise youth using ATVs.