Safety and off-road advocates cheered a new law tabled by the province this week that requires Albertans to wear helmets when they’re off-roading.
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason tabled Bill 36 Monday. If passed, the bill will require Albertans to wear helmets when operating any off-road vehicle on public land unless they are engaged in a farming or ranching activity.
Right now, there’s no law in Alberta requiring anyone to wear a helmet while riding an off-highway vehicle (OHV), Mason said. Alberta is the only province in Canada without an OHV helmet law.
That’s a significant public safety issue, as there are about 19 deaths and 6,000 emergency-room visits each year due to injuries sustained while riding an OHV, Mason continued.
“In the vast majority of those cases, the injured person was not wearing a helmet.”
This bill aims to reduce that risk by making helmets mandatory when riding an OHV, such as a quad, snowmobile or dirt bike. If passed, it would take effect May 2017 in time for the spring riding season.
Mason emphasized that helmets would not be required on private lands or Métis or First Nations reserves. Further exemptions, such as for vehicles with roll-cages and seatbelts, may be forthcoming.
Mason said the bill would require OHV users to wear a CSA-approved helmet or face a $155 fine. Officers would likely start with warnings and education before issuing tickets when the law kicks in.
Don Voaklander of the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta has lobbied for OHV helmet legislation for many years, and said in an interview that this bill was a step in the right direction.
“I think everyone who uses an OHV should be wearing a helmet,” he said.
“The science would suggest that’s a good idea.”
OHV injuries cost Alberta about $16 million in direct health care costs a year, reports the Injury Prevention Centre. Those injured often need long-term care and rehabilitation, Voaklander added.
Safety advocate Denise Pelletier spoke at the press conference about how she had to relearn how to walk, talk and read due to brain injuries after being thrown from her ATV in 2011 without a helmet.
“My family was told at the time that I had less than a five per cent chance of living an independent life should I survive.”
Voaklander predicted that this bill would prevent about 10 severe brain injuries and three to five deaths due to head trauma in Alberta each year. Helmet laws in general tend to cut fatality rates in half once introduced.
The bill’s farm, ranch, and private land exemptions mirror those found in Ontario and Saskatchewan, he added. Quebec and the Maritimes have no such exemption.
Mason said the province considered a more comprehensive law, but found it would be very tough to enforce helmet use on private land. As for farms, given the backlash over Bill 6 (last year’s controversial farm safety legislation), the province was taking a go-slow approach and would let a working group decide on helmets for farming as part of occupational health and safety regulations.
Brent Hodgson of the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicles Association and Laura Nelson of the Farm Safety Centre also supported the bill at the press conference.
Mike Waters, parts and accessories manager at St. Albert’s Riverside Honda & Ski-Doo and veteran off-roader, said he always wears a helmet when on an OHV. He’s rammed headfirst into the ground many times while downhill and ice-racing, but was able to get up again each time because he had a helmet.
“I’ve crashed just leaving my yard sometimes,” he said, and he’s had co-workers crash just moving OHVs around the store’s yard.
A good helmet will cost about $200 to $300, should fit snug on your head, have full jaw and chin protection, and either have a visor or goggles for your eyes, Waters said.
He also recommended wearing one even if the law doesn’t require it.
“It’s the most important part of your body. Wreck that, and you’re done.”