News / Edmonton

Alberta law calls for people to wear helmets when using off-highway vehicles

The proposed legislation applies to ATVs, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, four-wheel-drive vehicles and other machines used for cross-country travel.

File - A young racer on the start line at the Amsoil Kawartha Cup in Lindsay Ontario February 21, 2016.

Fred Thornhill for Torstar News Service

File - A young racer on the start line at the Amsoil Kawartha Cup in Lindsay Ontario February 21, 2016.

EDMONTON — Alberta has introduced legislation that would require people to wear helmets when operating off-highway vehicles on public land, after years of lobbying by safety groups.

The proposed legislation applies to ATVs, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, four-wheel-drive vehicles and other machines used for cross-country travel.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason said Alberta is the only province that does not have some kind of helmet law for off-road vehicles.

"For years, Albertans have been asking us to take action to reduce unnecessary injuries and deaths caused by head injuries on off-highway vehicle crashes," Mason said Monday.

"The proposed amendments would help prevent injuries and keep families safe."

The Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta estimates 19 people are killed each year in the province while operating off-highway vehicles. The centre said 185 people were killed while driving ATVs between 2002 and 2013.

Two out of three people who died were not wearing a helmet and more than half of the deaths were due to rollovers.

Last year, more than 1,000 children under 16 in the province were injured while riding on such machines and each year nearly 6,000 people end up in hospital emergency rooms. The government estimates that injuries from such crashes cost Alberta's health system about $50 million per year. 

The helmet law would not apply to people who use off-highway vehicles on private land — including for farm and ranch work — or on First Nation and Metis land.

Mason said enforcing the law on private land would be too difficult. But he said the province is consulting with agriculture groups and will work to promote the use of helmets on farms and ranches as it reviews occupational health and safety rules.

"You just can't force people to do everything you want just by passing legislation," Mason said.

Brent Hodgson, president of the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association, applauded the legislation.

He said the association, which has 122,000 members, has been urging the government to bring in a helmet law for more than eight years. 

Denise Pelletier, who suffered a brain injury in 2001 while riding an ATV without a helmet, said she fully supports the bill. Pelletier said after spending three weeks in a coma she had to learn to walk, talk and read again.

"I wouldn't wish a brain injury on anyone," she said.

Don Voaklander, director of the Injury Prevention Centre, said if the legislation becomes law, it could cut the number of off-highway vehicle deaths in half.

"I have written many letters to ministers of transportation over the years and this is the first minister who has actually taken this issue seriously," he said.

Mason said the government hopes to enact the legislation by next May — just before the off-highway riding season usually begins. 

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