Five Manitobans have died in off-road vehicle crashes so far this year, a statistic that has RCMP concerned too many operators are not following safety precautions.
The most recent incident led to the death of a 51-year-old man July 13 after the 2004 Polaris four-wheel ATV he was driving collided with irrigation equipment in the Portage la Prairie area.
A day earlier police and emergency personnel attended a fatal dirt bike accident in the RM of Reynolds where an adult male riding in a gravel pit had been thrown from the vehicle.
Three other ORV deaths this spring have occurred at Fisher Branch, Peguis First Nation and in the RM of Argyle.
On average, police investigate five fatal crashes a year, so the trend for 2013 isn’t looking good, said RCMP spokesman Corporal Miles Hiebert.
“It’s only July and we’ve already had five,” he said. “We’re only partway through the summer and we’ve already come to what our annual total is.”
RCMP have also issued press releases this spring detailing non-fatal mishaps, including one in June where a 41-year-old ATV operator and his seven-year-old passenger both required hospitalization for injuries after the machine they were operating rolled on a street in Mitchell.
Police are devoting considerable time to stressing safety as well as the rules of the road as the popularity of these vehicles grows, Hiebert said.
“We’re speaking to off-road groups and to kids in schools in rural communities,” he said. “We’re trying to drive the message home about safety.”
According to Manitoba Public Insurance the number of registered ATVs in Manitoba has tripled in the past decade, from 10,124 in 2003 to 29,837 in 2013.
Hiebert said the most frequent causes of injury occur when operators drive with excessive speed or trying to operate machines beyond their physical strength or capabilities. One-third of all victims of accidents are under the age of 21, police note.
“We have these new and inexperienced riders,” Hiebert said. “We’ve had some very serious situations where some very young people were driving them and shouldn’t be, first because it’s against the law and secondly because they’re not qualified to operate them.”
Police note that a parent or a guardian of anyone under the age of 14 caught driving one of these vehicles can be charged and fined because no one under the age of 14 is permitted to operate one of these vehicles unless supervised by an adult.
A number of police investigations into incidents revealed operators aren’t using helmets. Helmets must be worn by all recreational riders, said Hiebert.
“It saves lives,” he said. “There’s a number of fatalities every year that in all likelihood could have been prevented by wearing a helmet.”
RCMP also stress it is against the law to drive these vehicles on any roadway, or shoulder of a roadway and that the Highway Traffic Act also does not permit these vehicles on sidewalks.
Driving while impaired is a criminal code offence.